Sumi Tonooka is a pianist that to me demonstrates how one can have a certain eclecticism and yet stand apart from the imitators. She is in every way a modern left-of-mainstream player, but her imagination and keen ear for the interesting line, the interesting chordal spelling puts her in a place apart.
This she shows with some brilliance on the 2-CD set Now, Solo Live at the Howland Cultural Center (ARC 2369). The first disk concentrates on standards and it is fine music. But the second disk, devoted in the main to her own compositions, shines the brightest.
Sumi Toonoka studied with Boston legends Madam Chaloff and Charlie Banacos before embarking on her career. She has a sure pianism at her fingertips which in part indicates she benefited from the tutelage. But there's of course more to it. Sumi shows us on this set that she has absorbed the classic-modern tradition and made it her own.
This is a beautiful recital, captured in full sound. All who enjoy a fully spontaneous solo piano set will appreciate her mastery, which is quite nicely on display for the release.