January 2024, OA2 Records
BY ROBERT HAM
The career of most every musical artist is a slow or fast build toward their first major statement: their debut album. It’s the culmination of years of acquired skills and influences all funneled into one easily consumable chunk. In the case of trumpeter Jun Iida, he arrived at a recording studio in Glendale, California with a wealth of material completed during the pandemic that was impacted by years of exploring jazz, hip-hop, classical, and traditional Japanese folk songs he learned from his mother. Factor in the time Iida spent woodshedding and performing in cities like Seattle, Cleveland, Los Angeles, and New York City, and Evergreen, his first foray as a bandleader, was bound to be a dynamic affair, smoothly shifting between styles while maintaining a cohesive tone through nearly an hour of music.
By and large, Evergreen is a laidback affair, maintaining a comfortable resting pulse even during its most upbeat tracks. Helping set that mood is the interplay between Iida and vocalist Aubrey Johnson. Brought into the album to serve in the role of second horn, the New York-based singer spends much of the album doubling the melodies played by Iida and guitarist Masami Kuroki. The result, on tracks like the crisp “Holding On to Autumn” and their take on the Sonny Rollins/Elmo Hope composition “Bellarosa,” is a lush coziness that the other players blissfully sink into.
Those songs fall nicely into a post-bop lane, but the rest of the album doesn’t rest there for very long. In inspiration and reverence, Ida’s “Shiki no Uta,” is performed with a skipping rhythm worthy of the late Japanese hip-hop producer and DJ Nujabe. Co-producer Josh Nelson’s Fender Rhodes work adds a twinkling atmosphere to the rendition. Original composition “My Anguish In Solidarity,” a piece Iida wrote in response to the violence meted out upon Black Americans by police, is appropriately spiny and unsettled as Iida’s solo comes jutting into the mix at a startling angle that leads the entire song to tumble through its final minute like a small avalanche.
Yet for all the work that Iida put into his craft that allowed him to make an album with his name and face featured prominently on the cover, Iida sounds more than happy to slip in alongside the rest of the ensemble rather than pushing his horn into center stage. He instead wrote and arranged these songs with a mind toward enmeshing himself with his fellow players, an ensemble rounded out by drummer Xavier Lecouturier and bassist Jonathan Richards, in a celebration of this multivaried music that they’ve devoted themselves to.