Akira Tana’s Otonowa remembers disaster victims on “Ai San San–Love’s Radiance”


Drummer Akira Tana, along with the group, Otonowa will release their third album April 30, 2019. The album, “Ai San San- – Love’s Radiance” is intended to pay homage to the victims of natural disasters. The group formed in 2012 after a deadly earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan in 2011. More than 20,000 people lost their lives.

The songs presented on “Ai San San” are traditional and popular Japanese songs. They have been artfully arranged in various jazz styles using a combination of modern and ancient instruments.

About Akira Tana and Otonowa

Tana has played with familiar performers such as Sonny Rollins, Art Farmer, Zoot Sims and others. His appearances on CDs number into the hundreds, especially for his work as a sideman. As a leader, Tana led five CDs as part of the quintet called TanaReid, that he co-led with bassist Rufus Reid.

The musicians in Otonowa and Tana are Americans of Japanese descent. They are: Art Hirahara, piano; Masaru Koga, flute, saxes and shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute); Noriyuki “Ken” Okada, bass.

The group is complemented by the addition of traditional Japanese musicians: Shoko Hikage (koto or Japanese zither), Kenny Endo (percussion and taiko) and Tetsuya Tatsumi (cornet and trumpet).

The sound of “Ai San San” by Akira Tana and Otonowa

If a listener had not been informed, he or she might not know that the songs on “Ai San San” began as Japanese popular and traditional songs that have been turned into American jazz. With searing, mourning saxophones and lush, or tinkling piano, the songs are full of the emotiveness that made early instrumental jazz a joy to hear. There are 11 songs on the recording, and all are beautiful. One stands out for its sound and vibe.

Named after the small fishing harbor on the island of Izu-Oshimo, “Habu No Minato” begins with the sparse sound of traditional Japanese instrument, the koto. That only lasts a few measures. A crisp drum tattoo gives way to a tango-like rhythm that is beautifully executed. A saxophone in the front of the soundscape moves the song in a different, faster, direction. After that, the original motif returns, allowing the song to flare and shimmer out from there to reach its logical conclusion. “Habu No Minato” is a popular song from 1923. The jazz that it represents here is timeless.

Tana did not grow up with the music on “Ai San San” that some of his bandmates did. But the music allows him to get in touch with his culture. There is something in every chord that lets listeners know that there a meaningful backstory to each song.


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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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