Lynne Arriale Trio: The Lights Are Always On (Challenge Recordings Int, 2021)

Lynne Arriale’s music is as mellow as a cup of tea. Then she wakes you, with notes of spice, and powerful modal caffeine. Her palette is wide. The colors are splashes of impressionist pastels. The Lights Are Always On has songs dedicated to her many heroes, and they build with honor and éclat and panache, leaving you feeling invigorated and calm, and clean.

The opening song, “March On”, is not a march but a waltz, but it has the feel of movement to something ever greater, and more haunting. Drummer E.J. Strickland is understated and grand, with bold hints of drama. Jasper Somsen on bass is an almost invisible presence, blending in with the low notes of Arriale’s piano, knitting and weaving the trio together.

“Sisters” is one of my favorites, with its gospel-soul feel, with the power to overcome tears, or to overcome through tears. Arriale’s solo is full of origami shapes, and leaps and dips with arpeggios and trills and blocks, with a heavy rhythm that is always light. It fades out with a light that keeps shining.

Arriale has great emotional pull, and there are whirlpools and whirlwinds in her playing. “Loved Ones” is another one I like, which starts out with some deep, brief melancholy but gets happy, and stays that way for the rest of the way through. Her chord progressions are interesting, unexpected but satisfying and delightful.

There is a deep technical tension in her playing, with slow tempos giving building rhythms a heavy speed. “The Notorious RBG” is a modal workout, with a break where she goes back to changes, and it is a fascinating play of dark and light. The sound is early McCoy Tyner, anchoring the bursts of the Coltrane quartet. We can see Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s face as the song comes to a powerful stop.

There is this pattern in Arriale where she begins with darkness, then everything is bathed in light. This is a strong recording, about strength. The penultimate number, “Walk in My Shoes”, is another modal number, this one dedicated to John Lewis. This also has a Coltrane sound, with a glorious feel of tenderness. She has succeeded in putting us in the hero’s shoes, the light of the powerful mind pushing on through protests, and making change. And she has succeeded in putting us back in our shoes, with this invested strength to go on and change.


VIA Gra – Gems from a Ukraine Pop Trio

When I subscribed to Vogue recently, I found the magazine had changed. Vogue had always been a classic, and I wanted the showcase and tips on fashion, and the bird’s eye view of the glamor world, but now its focus has expanded. It includes many features on race, on challenging advanced new art, and international things. One thing I discovered was the Ukraine women’s pop trio VIA Gra.

VIA Gra has a glamorous pop sound, but also a melodic folk feel. The trio has been together since about 2000, starting as a duo, and adding a new member a few years later. They are three young women singers with fit bodies and nice hair and revealing, flashy but tasteful outfits. They sing in Russian. Vogue compared them to The Spice Girls but they seem to have much more independence and nerve, representing something good about young women and people and international culture.

VIA Gra has about six albums (whose titles I can’t translate, in Cyrillic), and a lot of singles. Their sound has evolved over the two decades, but they have remained consistent. They have a great name, which suggests a droll, wry, sexy way with words, so I wish I could know what the lyrics say. But their harmonies are white-wine dry and the synthesizer background is dreamy and natural. I have been playing them for two days, and they still have not tired me. This is music for any time, or any social context, whether I am alone, and their romantic touch enchants me, or something to play with friends visiting, because it is fun and light.

Blood Sex – The Red Hot Chili Peppers

When I got outside of a hospital facility where the patients were being treated for aggression ( I was one of them), I heard “Under the Bridge” on the way in the cab to the commuter train station to take me home to Boston – it was under a bridge. The song really grabbed me, right in the gut. “This is the song I need to hear right now,” I said to the cab driver. I was untangling my necklaces from the pouch, which I had been unable to wear. It was nice to be outside. “Everybody should spend some time inside,” I had said to the social worker who had treated me. “It makes. you a better person.”

I was a better person, I believe, and I was grooving high to the music that was playing, The Red Hot Chili Peppers. I think the singer, Anthony Akidis, understands the moods that have dug into people like me, the hurt that makes them mad, and wild – and what makes them aggressive. The music has the feel of a heavy beast of a shark tearing through the sea, this innocent, protected, force of a thing of nature.

Right now, I am playing Californication. It was released in 1999, but until now, when I just looked it up on Wikipedia, I thought it had been released much earlier. A friend in the neighborhood across the street said that was his favorite album of theirs, and that it was their first big hit. Anyway, it was the first album he paid attention to when he first came of age. It has a mature sound, with hardcore touches that are melded and blended well – perfectly – like a scotch highball at a club, in the middle of the night. I can see why he likes it so much. The lyrics are heavy and smooth and precise and accurate and hard-hitting, and the guitars are restrained but completely wild.

I used to hear “Aeroplane” all the time when I was working at night as a supply clerk at the OR of a hospital. That is my favorite song. “That motherf***** is always spiked with pain…” That was from One Hot Minute, in 1995, and it was their biggest hit. It really broke clean on popular radio. It was wild. It would play in the Irish Pub I would go to after work and see my friend, who worked with me, and someone would buy a case of Becks, and we would go for an afterparty at his apartment. Then Bobby, my friend, would go back to his home and get some weed.

There is a sexual energy to the band that is completely abandoned, yet it is tame, in a way, because it is safe and sound. And there is the blood, the blood pounding in the bodies of the whole organization that makes up the band, with the energy of the people that listen to them – all of them. Like some other artists – Madonna, New Order – they made it big in the 1980s, but they have still been continuing to come out with great music well into this century. Their music is all about evolving, and the evolution of the human psyche of the body. They have wrecked trains, but the trains keep moving, and going on, and the music opens up the mind and pours the waters of introspection into the aggressive, savage jungle of the dark country inside.


The song I am playing is “Bye Bye Baby”. It is from Madonna’s Erotica. It has a light, sultry beat, with soft, whispered disco vocals. “Bye bye baby goodbye,” it goes, “instruction to cry.” Madonna can get heavy with her beat and her pop lyrics, and she gets very emotional. I think she is one of the best artists of her time, or any time. I didn’t always recognize her in this way. I remember driving a friend somewhere in August 1984. A very original song came on the radio.  My friend had been talking about Prince to me, and The Eurythmics. This really grabbed me though and touched me – deep. There was an innocence to it, but a bold sophistication. It was “Borderline”: “Your love keeps on pushing me over the borderline,” she sang. and I could feel it, the jealous rejection, the romantic equanimity, the anger. And the promise to survive, and move on, and make a career of romantic and professional experience for herself.

I didn’t pay attention to her for so much time. I heard songs like “Material Girl”, from her next album, and I didn’t think they were meant for someone like me, just for teenage girls. Songs would catch me when I heard them at work or in a shop, but I just wouldn’t take her seriously. I would like the videos, and think they were sexy and exciting, and they absorbed me, and I liked the thigh stockings and the lingerie she wore. I would like a song, then another, and the next I wouldn’t think was for me. I heard “Ray of Light”, from Ray of Light, in 2000, and I realized: she has taken each decade since the 80s and made it hers.

During the COVID-19 shutdown, I finally decided to explore her albums. She is not just a “singles” girl, her albums are highly conceived as wholes, and she keeps moving and evolving from one to the next. The first album I played was American Life. It had a highly evolved disco-techno trance sound, which she had achieved effortlessly, though she is known for her profoundly driven work ethic. The music was driven, with emotional outbursts, and rough punches to the gut, that were like sweet touches on the neck, when she was about to kiss you with her red lipstick lips.

Even the earlier albums are very mature, though they have the sassy, petulant girly-girl sound of a comely teenager. “Holiday” is one of my favorites, “Lucky Star” another. I had heard these songs years before, but I finally admitted that I liked them and loved them, and that they each moved me and touched me in a different way. It was a dance partner in a hot, happening, swinging dance club in the night. Each album is unique, and interesting in its own way. She never steps in the same stream twice, and her bare, sparkling feet get wet with the water, so she is always moist. I believe “Waiting”, from Erotica, is my favorite from all time ever, with the high sophistication of the dance beat, and the rhythm of her vocals, with their heavy repetition of key phrases from the chorus.

Madonna has never sported or presented herself as a great singer, or “the best musician.” She has just tried to be a superstar with genuine impulses and intentions.  But her body has the feel of dance, and the body of the feel of her dance comes into her music and makes her something really special. I listen to those albums all the time, all fourteen or seventeen of them. I just play them down the whole list of my album catalogue, without stopping, unless I have to sleep, which sometimes I leave it on even then. And she is still playing, when I wake up, and I feel like moving my hips and shaking my butt and dancing.



Sophia Marshall – Bye Bye (Independent, 2017)

Sophia Marshall has quickly become one of my favorite singers around, with a folk-country-rock sound that is magical, sporting touches of wild bluegrass. She has a mind for heavy lyrics, and her blueberry-wine voice makes me think of some American country singer: deep, mellifluous, and lyrical and hard, like sparkling diamonds.

A Leicestershire, England native, you would hardly know she was English, even less so than The Rolling Stones, because she has so much mastered the American country folk rock sound, with touches of Rolling Stones rock, and even some Beatles, subtly and strategically placed here and there to round out the beginning and endings of songs.

She could fit easily into the new contemporary country field, but her sound is at once more original and classically imbued with the past. She would fit easily with a category of Maria Muldaur and Linda Ronstadt. She is also a fine guitarist, with a sweet honey strum. She is bound to rise higher, as a new superstar, as the stars rise at night over a Nashville, Tennessee sky.


Marka (Fiction)

Marka just had to go on. Somewhere deep inside, she was climbing the big rocks of a steep mountain, and the rocks kept getting bigger. She knew she was reaching something – her signals told her that – some big dark blue sky, and she was reaching it, she was reaching it with her strength, which was all the strength she had, a woman’s strength, and it was hers.

The power came from inside her. And she knew it was there. It was there as sure as the big mountain in front of her, which wasn’t really there, it was just inside her. But she kept climbing, climbing inside her mind. It was glorious and magnificent. She reached it; she reached the sky.

It took her most of her life to reach it. From when she was a girl, she was always climbing. It made her what she was. She climbed trees in her backyard, just like a boy. She climbed inside of the attic, to find her mother’s clothes, and put them on and wear them. She felt like such a mature woman when she did this – the dresses and lacy underwear, the stylish, fashionable coats of another decade – she felt magically placed the evening parties of her mother’s days.

As a child she dreamed she would find a robin’s nest, and she would keep the eggs as souvenirs. The tiny, speckled, light blue eggs were magical to her and once, she dreamed she had climbed a tree and found a nest, and the mother robin bit her with her yellow beak when she got there.

She would dream of climbing the highest tree, and reaching the very top, where the branches grew slight and thin.  She was never scared of falling out of trees, but she did have some short falls that put the wind out of her. it was the usually the same pine trees in her backyard, in the suburbs of an old city.

Her whole life was a climb of sorts, with odd jobs and careers that didn’t work out, her wish and aspiration to be a teacher, for which she had such enthusiasm, but which never went very far. She tutored those in need, a diverse population, which was one of the most gratifying things in her life. She had a wonderful knowledge of literature, and she helped the students reach the level that she had. She pulled deep into herself, and she found she loved her student, who looked up to her like a heroine.

She would climb when she read at night – deep philosophy, modern, international novels from around the world. She liked the English and Japanese best, with their polished, surreal and psychological feeling. She liked books on music, and she had much, which she read with passion.

She climbed the walls of the long, winding halls of her memory when she wrote poetry. The straight girls who rebuffed her because she was a lesbian, and they didn’t understand lesbians. Many of them found her attractive and pretty, and sexually appealing.

She pulled out a piece of paper and started writing some lines of verse. This is when the bucks of memory began. She would go back so many years and get stuck in her tangled history. With this came the perception and the focus, as if she had exposed a camera lens for an extended period of time, so her poetry was really vivid and intense.

Poetry could make her break. It made her gasp for sure things, when everything around her was hazy and incorporeal and vague. She would write to work out her problems, but sometimes the problems became multiplied. But the process was an achievement. She was climbing, reaching the highest level, finding herself, in all of what that meant. Which meant everything to her, for it was all that she could do, and she had done it.

Marka had written so much poetry she felt she was making food for people no one could ever eat it. This had to be enough. She wished to find a point where she could end, and she would be rewarded for what she had done, and she could just rest on her laurels. But it was an everlasting process. Even if she stopped writing, there was the will to go on, until the very end. She just kept on writing.

Writing was an exhilaration for her. It kept her sane, but it was an endless battle, with the same things that made her healthy making her helpless and causing her to be subsumed under a wave of helplessness. But writing gave her wisdom. Poetry had been kept her inside, banging against the walls of the cell. Poetry was condensed language. It was packing the ball tighter and tighter. It was polishing glass. It was mirrors reflecting light, reflecting mirrors. It was fabulous and fascinating, but draining and exhausting. She felt if she could just escape it, she could live on, taking life on a transcendent level.

But she went on with her writing – the stories and memories and essays, where she traced her methods and process, and the life that led her to that process. It was fiction, which meant putting her life on a subjective level, something she could push back and take perceptually.

Marka looked at herself, she looked at herself in the mirror. But it was the reminiscence of a mirror, even if it was the same mirror that she had looked in this morning. She peered at her lovely face. She was happy with her face. She was shapely and comely, and even pretty. She wished she could just live life for glamour and to have her body, to be an icon of love, and be famous. But being famous meant facing other people, mixing with large crowds which meant letting go of her private life. But it could also mean rising above this and looking above it, experiencing it at a removed level where she could choose whom to be with; other intelligent, glamorous people.

She felt her writing had to lead to something better. It could not be its own reward. It was a huge, great sacrifice. She would find that thing, if it was finding glamour, or fame, or the fascination with her own body that led to the mystery of being a woman.

Marka looked forward to the next day. It would be sunny and warm. This May had been cold so far, or at least quite cool by usual standards. She could wear her favorite red summer dress. She also had a leopard-patterned and a black dress she liked. And she had the AOC and Ilhan Omar t-shirts she could wear with a black denim dress.

Writing poetry had opened up her feelings about herself as a subjective woman and helped her self-actualize. Choice and decision were so much a part of it, just as it was with clothing. And poetry really was a kind of clothing, even of the body. Clothing made you appear more naked, for it is when we express ourselves that we reveal ourselves most, in the language we use to talk about our lives.

Marka was not afraid of appearing naked. She loved her body. She had always felt that she was not strong. But she was strong, it was a woman’s strength. Her body and her mind were aligned, as she learned and practiced what she was taught in yoga. What strengthened her body strengthened her mind. What gave her health gave her peace.

She knew the basic happiness of the body came from the routine of the day, even if it was just regular cooking and housekeeping, and hygiene. Her poetry disrupted this, when it became particularly intense. But when she had written hard, she could look at her self-care and domestic tasks as axiomatic and an extension of that study, and the process became reflexive, with the body and mind aligned.

Early on, when she was eighteen, Marka climbed out of a deep hole. The hole made her feel very dirty and alone. She kept slipping down the muddy sides and falling into a dirty pool. It broke her. The whole rest of her life had consisted in rebuildiing the lost grace, and the strength which she had never really developed, since she was so young. But it turned her into an artist. Marka arrived late as a full-blown poet, but the blooming had been dramatic, and beautiful, and forceful with quick speed, though it was as slow as her life.

And she was glad she had passed her life slowly.  It was the converse of the speed of her poetry. There was so much she could look back on in her career as a poet. With her practice, she mined the ditches of her memory, but looking back on the whole of her past as a poet took her to a another level, a meta level, on which she could see herself, the whole person, but attached to herself, safe in the arms of her body, climbing with her mind while her body was free. She could climb deep in her mind, opening up the doors to her new self, the new self she was always becoming.

The new self she was always becoming as she climbed, higher and higher, into the sky, which would accept her as the woman she was, the woman poet dreaming of climbing into the sky, into herself, she who made a life of becoming a better person. A better person and a better woman, a woman that loved, but watched each step she was taking up the tower she had found in the country, to look out over it, and see what she had done, for this was her country, the country of a woman who could say anything she wanted, because it would be right. Because she lived right, Marka lived right, and she kept on living.

To Be a Transgender Woman (Fiction)

To be a transgender woman: because it is something I know about – yes. The story of my woman’s life, my transgender woman’s life, the story of any transgender woman’s life, not just my life, not just any transgender woman’s life, any life, any person’s life, any vegetable or mammal life – or of rocks and stones, the song of death… and it goes on easily from here, as life goes on easy, when you have accepted yourself, for who you are.

Not to undertake such a daunting task – it is not what I desire to do, what I wish to push upon the world, to push my transgender body upon the world that rejects us in so many ways, transgender women. To write a work that you could call fiction, a kind of fiction, in a literary genre. “Genres shall not be mixed,” Jacques Derrida wrote, when he explicitly intended to mix genres. I intend to mix genres – and I intend to mix genders.

She is hip, because she is a DJ. Spinning the latest hits at the disco, in her tight glittery dress, her nicely shaped, voluptuous breasts implanted surgically five months ago. It was painful, this process, as the new mammary glands healed, but she enjoyed the process, this new burgeoning body of womanhood, “which made me what I am,” she said. She was joking, but she was really telling the truth: it made her feel like a woman, which made her a woman, because that is what being a woman is.

Madonna and acid jazz, Paul Oakenfold trance, Paul Van Dyk, Armin van Buuren – all the cool stuff from the techno and electronic scenes. She knew it all – where the technicians came from, what made them tick, what made their music art. And she thought of it as such, though it was just fine disco to dance to, and she loved to dance, to feel her fine body moving on the dance floor, shaking her butt and breasts and hips in her tight glittering gown.

She had been assigned to have GRS the next summer. But it was delayed because of COVID-19. This almost broke her heart. It was a kind of trauma, because it was one that only women would understand: how crucial their body image is to them. She desperately wanted a vagina – they were nicely made by these surgeons – real Oreos, she said.

Kassandra cued the next disco song on the Technics turntable, she picked up a glass of rose wine. She had chosen it over the cosmopolitan. Cosmopolitans gave her a headache, though she loved the taste. The song was dry, a dry white-wine minimalist techno, with a blitzing heavy dance beat. It gave her anxiety, though it gave her energy. She thought about how hard it had been for her body to transition – and for her to transition, as a transgender woman.

People had accepted Kassandra, but the people she knew looked at her differently. She had a high, soft woman’s voice so the people who met her or didn’t know her just assumed she was a cis woman, which was nice, but she wondered if she felt pretty, if people thought she was pretty. “Do you think I’m pretty?” she asked. “is it all right for me to say?” I asked. “Of course,” she said. “Well, yes.” I answered. She said, “Aw, thanks.” I felt I had been attracted to her, and I liked her body, and how her easy disposition had fit so neatly into her personality of love and kind passion. I even asked her for a date to peruse tops and skirts and dresses at the local Goodwill, but I didn’t present it as a date.

People sometimes ask me if I would date other transgender women. I would. I am attracted to them. I like the mix of sexes and genders, it is a sexual thrill for me, the daring of a moment’s surrender to another body – it gives me dreams, and I wake up from them, satisfied and happy.

I always dreamed of being a goddess, dancing in the ballroom light of a late-night nightclub, with my breasts tight in my full lace brassiere, my body in the night. But I can’t really dance. Maybe Kassandra will show me, in some dream I conjure of her, together in the night with me, just dancing, just dancing free. It is nice to imagine her there in my home, when I am away, when she feeds my cat.

So that’s my story, the private story of a transgender woman in public.  She loves being this woman she is, that she was becoming, ever since she was born. If you want to know what my birth certificate says, you will have to read my mind. My mind of transgender woman, of a child growing up to be a woman in a men’s world, and to change that world so that it loves women, transgender women.

  • May 26, 2020


She Dreams of Having a Baby (Fiction)

She could already feel her in her womb, the child, the baby that was to become somebody in her life, she could feel the ache, of her pride, as she rose up and dreamed that she was having a baby, a child that would be hers. The child she had dreamed of, that was deep inside her womb, just a seed now from a man, but germinating, a seed of nature. She was a garden. Her body was a garden. And she felt the seed grow, into a plant into a tree, into a flower, and the flower was hers, her love, her baby, her child. It was only a flower, but it was her baby.

It was the flower that came to her, the flower that came to her body, as froth on the ocean waves on the sea. And her body was a sea, her body was the ocean: the ocean spewing up shells, quahogs and oysters and scallops, and she was Aphrodite riding on a scallop shell. As her womb expanded with her woman’s power, she wept, and she laughed, and she cried. She writhed with the anger she felt at the suppression of her body , all her body couldn’t feel when it was shut in, with no light, and she was entrapped as a bee in a mason jar, in a dark basement, her body tight with a memory of a healing heart and mind. But she had healed, and she was growing like the flower that she would hold in her hands.

The baby came, the flower came. The baby laughed and smiled. Her speech was her laughter, the language of a child. And the she spoke with her laughter, and the mother understood. And her heart bloomed because it was a flower. Its white petals were soft and fragrant. Her body closed at night, and it opened in the morning, and the baby’s eyes and were there to greet her when she saw her. The baby was a sparkling gem, with many facets of infinite joy.

The baby nursed, under the cups of her bra. She never felt so wonderful naked. She could hear the baby’s speech, this speech of that came from a baby’s mouth. Just humming and cooing and gargling but it had the measure lyric poetry. And the baby’s mind was poetry to her, this little mind, as the hum of bees out of their hive: and the baby’s breath smelled like honey – honey gathered from her own breasts, from her own body, from her own womb. For she was a flower, her body had made her a flower.

She spoke to the baby at night, as the baby slept. The baby slept with such peace as she could never imagine she would ever have. But she had it as she watched the baby sleep.  She watched her sleep, the soft eyelids shut over her cloudy eyes, big, tiny blue things, agate shooting marbles in space; and the baby dreamed, and the mother knew her dreams, she knew them deep in her soft, listening heart. She had known the dreams from the beginning. For they were her dreams of having a baby, the baby born from the flower inside her heart, a baby to love in her arms, which she was holding right now.

Yoko Miwa Trio: Keep Talkin’ (Ocean Blue Tear Music)

gsdzwbu1ToSbGlMkYTvMtwYoko Miwa is a light, bluesy stylist, with a heavy soul, whose bop/swing/flash style evokes Keith Jarret and Bud Powell as much as Bill Evans, to whom she has often been compared. Keep Talkin’, her new album in a string of four major music statements, starting with 2011’s Live at Scullers (Jazz Cat Amnesty Records), is bright and happy, as suggested by the colorful balloons in the background of her lovely profile on its cover. With Scott Goulding on drums, Will Slater on bass (with a guest appearance by Brad Barrett). it is glossy and glassy and strong, with orchestral overtones produced by the trio capable of a much larger sound than their minimalist disposition would imply.

The songs have a great geography, with the Latin flavored Miwa original title track opening the record with a deep blues feel belying the Bossa beat, followed by the Thelonious Monk number “In Walked Bud”, which she revisits from an earlier album, 2007’s The Day We Said Goodbye (Sunshine Digital), with a brand new, intriguing structure starting with a solo bass, and a complex dialogue which started to become patent in her last album, Pathways (Ocean Blue Tear, 2017).

“Secret Rendezvous”, another original, is lush, grand and understated, building and receding, a picturesque ocean beach tide. Charles Mingus’s “Boogie Stomp Shuffle” is a favorite set closer for her. She plucks itchy, staccato chords, with glissandi, creating contrapuntal and shadowy drama. Miwa alway includes song by The Beatles. “Golden Slumbers/You Never Give Me Your Money” is the one she plays here, which she revisits from The Day We Said Goodbye, but she treats it in much the same way, so it’s a disappointment that she didn’t change it.

It does work well in the large context of the album, though, segueing into a more emotional, romantic tone towards the second half, with another stunning original, “Tone Portrait”, and the heartbreaking “Casa Pre-Fabricada”, by Marcelo Camelo, which has haunting arches and architraves, and soft pastel shades, with fascinating cymbal work by Goulding at the end. Goulding also makes Joni Mitchell’s “Conversation” a strong rocker, reflective and pensive, keeping Mitchell’s original flavor, but sounding so Yoko. This has one of the best piano solos on the album, simple and subtle, cutting down on the usual number of notes she uses, with repeated one-note patterns and exuberant crescendos.

The album has a great shape, highly conceived as one form as a whole, rather than simply a sequence of one song after another. This is one of the most satisfying things about it, as it moves steadily in one direction, toward a climax. “If You’re Blue” is the cheery penultimate number, another Miwa original, soft and light, like holding an orange in your hand. “Sunshine Follows Rain” is the closing song, another Miwa original, opening with Barrett’s arco bass. Barrett is featured in a large way in this song, which floats at a glacial pace, with glistening, icy sparkles, but warm arpeggios and a reassuring resolution, softly setting down the vast panorama beside you.

Hiro Honshuku, A-No-Ne Christmas – Ryles, 12/13/17

Hiro Honshuku

For his band tonight at Ryles in Cambridge, flutist Hiro Honshuku features Latin and jazz renditions of Christmas songs. This is a septet, with Yuka Kido, also on flute, Helio Alvez, on piano, Mauricio Andrade, on guitar, Fernando Huergo, on bass, Guillermo Nojechowicz, on drums, and guest Rika Ikeda on violin.

The songs have sparkle, and the sultry feel of a warm climate. “The Little Drummer Boy” has nothing of the pathos of usual versions, but is quick with changes and drive. Kido rolls out hard, modal flutters, and Alvez is grand, with glassy arpeggios. “It Came upon a Winter’s Night” is soft and caressing and reflective, Honshuku leading with a blue-note inflected solo, which Kido continues with the dark tints of stained glass. The two flutists move in counterpoint to conclude the song, returning subtly and seamlessly to the melody.

Honshuku showcases three versions of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman”, and the third is fast paced and restless, but alive with washes and flashes. Kido solos, with sharp, strong intervals, then Andrade, with dark romance on guitar; and Honshuku and Ikeda duo with fury, lashing and sparking. There is a brief coda after the return to melody which is a like a celebration of confetti, each artist splitting away and apart, and showering as one again together.

Honshuku is a sharp, acute, complex, and gentle player, with great fusion of the styles with which he works. Each musician is balanced nicely and uniquely under his direction. It is hard to direct a septet and make room for so many shifting voices, but he does it. It is also especially difficult to do a Christmas show and still give it the feel of inventive jazz. Honshuku achieves this balance, so you always feel as if you are hearing new songs, however warm and familiar they are.

Especially with “Greensleeves”, trademarked by Coltrane in the ‘60s, The septet creates a practically new song out of it, dipping and swooping and swirling. You don’t pin it down until the end.

Honshuku plays EMV, an electronic wind instrument, as the show closes, for “Gloria”, so funky it’s irreverent. Then he picks up piccolo for”Silent Night” backed with a solid, hard rock guitar riff. This is definitely a spiritual experience, but it changes the meaning of church, and gives a jolt to the holidays.