Tadataka Unno, I Am, Because You Are Review
Resilience in Harmony: Tadataka Unno’s I Am, Because You Are – A Triumph of Musical Resurgence
by Jeff Becker
Tokyo-born and New York-bred pianist Tadataka Unno is back with his latest album, I Am, Because You Are, an exploration of jazz that resonates with his journey, experience, and profound sense of being. Born to music-loving parents, Unno began his odyssey with the piano at a tender age of 4, seguing into jazz at age 9, ultimately leading him to graduate from Tokyo University for Music and Fine Art, a journey that propelled him into the limelight and a vibrant career, first in Japan and subsequently in the United States. Having shared the stage with notable jazz maestros at renowned venues and playing in some of the most respected ensembles, his music captures an aura of sophistication and an electrifying creative dynamism, reflective of his extraordinary career.
I Am, Because You Are is Unno’s second post-trauma album, coming to life after he suffered a horrifying hate crime in 2020. His triumphant return to music, his indomitable spirit, and his continued journey as a musician is elegantly encapsulated in this album. Recorded with regular collaborators Danton Bohrer on double bass and Jerome Jennings on drums, this all-original set is built around their deep relationship of trust and their understanding of the profound power of music in bringing people together. Recorded at the historic Van Gelder Studios in New Jersey, with mixing by the Grammy-winning engineer Jim Anderson, I Am, Because You Are harnesses the energy of the trio’s live performance, the intimacy of their connection, and the power of resilience, forming a compelling narrative that bridges personal history and the universal language of jazz.
The album begins with an elegant blend of traditional jazz and contemporary nuances, with a composition showcasing Unno’s consummate musicianship and emotional resonance with “Somewhere Before.” The trio’s skillful interplay is immediately apparent and is captured with an auditory experience akin to being seated in a college auditorium, immersed in the ebb and flow of a live performance. The reverberant drums, particularly the snare, create a spacious, atmospheric soundscape. Unno’s piano, melodious and flowing, takes the leading role, underpinned by the rhythmic constancy of Boller’s double bass.
“Cedar’s Rainbow” is another standout track. The piece commences with a tender solo piano rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, serving as an emotive preamble before the trio plunges into an up-tempo composition. Seamlessly transitioning between straight and swing eighths, Unno exhibits a rhythmic versatility that infuses the piece with vibrancy. His melodic intuition remains at the forefront, beautifully threading together complex rhythmic patterns and engaging the listener throughout.
The arrangement of the instruments in the audio landscape — piano, drums, and bass — adds an additional layer of interest to the listening experience. Each instrument holds its unique space, yet together they create a harmonious soundscape, much like a well-orchestrated play on a three-tiered stage.
It is the balance of technical mastery, nuanced compositions, and emotional depth that makes I Am, Because You Are a successful recording of Unno’s talent. In conclusion, it is his ability to convey complex emotions through his fluid piano lines while communicating with his bandmates that is the heart of this album, creating a narrative that speaks of resilience, hope, and the joy of music.