"Evergreen" is the debut album of US trumpeter and flugelhorn player Jun Iida. The album was recorded in Los Angeles where he lived for five years, before recently moving to New York. Six of the ten compositions are his own originals, but all are reflective of both his Japanese heritage and his command and fluency in jazz composition and stylings, the two worlds being complementary and mutually enriching on this showing.
Several distinctive features combine to make this album the pleasure that it is. Key to these is the fact that it has its own characteristic soundscape, foregrounding the fluid and dynamic interplay between the leading voices of trumpet, the singing of Aubrey Johnson (she sings on all the compositions, with words and without) and the guitar of Masami Kuroki. The album is co-produced by pianist on all tracks, Josh Nelson.
Track 2 "Akatombo" is a popular Japanese song that Iida learnt from his mother, sung here in the original by Johnson, with the addition of thrilling and soaring vocal improvisations and interplay with Iida's trumpet, a real highlight. Title track "Evergreen" follows, the sinuous melody delivered in unison by voice and trumpet, leading into a pleasingly bubbly guitar solo courtesy of Masami Kuroki and answering, searching trumpet solo. It closes with beautiful exploratory exchanges, fizzing and crackling, between piano and the drums of Xavier Lecouturier. Following track "Shiki No Uta" (Song of the Seasons) is a re-reading of a Japanese pop tune, again sung in the original language by Johnson, brief but rhythmic and haunting, and featuring a nice change of timbre in the muted trumpet solo over Fender Rhodes piano splashes.
The diversity of mood and style, not to mention thoughtful programming of tracks, is a real strength of this album, as evidenced by the two covers in its middle part, "Bellarosa" by Sonny Rollins and Elmo Hope and "Love Theme from Spartacus" by Alex North and Terry Callier. The first is a swinging, syncopated romp with fluent, brisk trumpet, guitar and piano solos, altogether uplifting and pleasing on the ear. The second, in marked contrast of mood, is a beautifully delivered ballad, melancholy and spacious, featuring just piano and trumpet. Both are notable for their economy and depth of feeling.
The final three tracks are all Iida originals, with "Song for Luke" being a particularly affecting elegy for a childhood friend, the melody shared between voice and trumpet, sometimes in unison. It also features a poignant, unshowy double bass solo by Jonathan Richards leading into a beautiful flowing solo rejoinder by Iida on trumpet. Closing piece "Holding on to Autumn" starts off in similar vein, but really takes off with some energetic and spirited ensemble playing as it develops. All in all, there is a great deal to enjoy here.