Yoko Miwa Trio – Keep Talkin’ – Ocean Blue Tear Music OBTM-0011 [6/7/2019], 73:57 *****:
(Yoko Miwa – piano; Will Slater – double bass; Scott Goulding – drums; Brad Barrett – double bass (track #11)
Yoko Miwa began her career as a classical pianist. Like many others, she was drawn to jazz. In her hometown of Kobe Japan, she studied jazz with Minoru Ozone and played in his club. She also taught at his musical school. After the devastating 1995 earthquake, Miwa won a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee School Of Music in Boston. There she established a two-pronged musical legacy as a recording/performing jazz pianist, as well as a professor at Berklee. She has collaborated with Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lyne Carrington, Arturo Sandoval, Slide Hampton, Jon Faddis and Johnathan Blake. Additionally, she was selected to perform at Lincoln Center as part of Marian McPartland & Friends. As a band leader, she has recorded six albums which have garnered critical acclaim.
On her latest album, Keep Talkin’, “Professor” Miwa weaves through an impressive array of stylized interpretations in a trio format ( Will Slater – double bass; Scott Goulding – drums). The opening title cut feels like classic early 60’s post-bop. With a steady up tempo pulse, Miwa’s prominent runs display soulful texture as her left hand nails down the vamps, while the right hand flourishes are jauntily executed. The rhythm section shines in rhythmic fluency. Taking on Thelonious Monk is a rite of passage for jazz pianists. On “In Walked Bud”, Miwa grasps the essence of Monk’s muscular grace. with her lower-register bass dynamics and syncopated chording and notation. She emulates the multi-faceted Monk phrasing and inventive time signatures that epitomized this jazz legend. Without any abatement of rhythmic fluidity, another original (“Secret Rendezvous”) begins with a wistful introduction that morphs into a brief Latin-infused run. The trio distills the innate jazzy elegance of the composition with unpredictable turns. During a solo, Miwa mixes left and right hand chords/notation while insinuating a repeat sustain intermingled with medium-swing cascades. Goulding is a refined counterpoint to her jamming.
In a change of pace, “Sunset Lane” adopts a breezy 3/4 time that frames the resonant melody. Slater contributes a nimble solo amid a hushed interlude. Miwa follows with a gliding run, sprinkled with nuanced, expanded chords, and delicate tempo adjustments, with an emphatic finish. Ramping up the intensity, Charles Mingus’ “Boogie Stop Shuffle” combines moodiness with adroit cadence. Miwa’s fierce soloing is gritty and blues-driven with deft technical expertise. Her right hand flies along the keys and she is brilliant on a lower register hook. In a surprise, a welcome cover of The Beatles (“Golden Slumbers/You Never Give Me Your Money”) initially sticks close to the McCartney version, but with a heathy dose of gospel shading and elasticity. On her album, Pathways, she covered Lennon’s “Dear Prudence”. As the song progresses, Miwa infuses a harmonic brawniness to the playing that transforms the number before the gentler, familiar melody line returns. Each arrangement is different and utilizes the trio’s flexibility. “Tone Portrait” has a finger-snapping vibe and features another double bass solo. Miwa’s breezy countenance (with some halting emphasis) is prevalent here.
Drawing on Brazilian influences, Miwa taps into a modern composer (Marcelo Camelo). “Casa Pre-Fabricada” is ethereal with a contemporary, lilting flow. The emotional potency and lyricism becomes aspirational as the song develops. After previously reinventing Joni Mitchell’s jazz-oriented classic “Court And Spark”, Miwa has chosen a song from Ladies Of The Canyon (”Conversation”). While Mitchell’s version was pure folk, the idiosyncratic, jazzy chords lend themselves to various musical interpretations. Miwa adds rock-based structure with a Sunday morning feel. She is careful not to eschew the pop sensibility, even with improvisational ebullience. It is a rollicking, accessible performance. Transitioning to a more traditional jazz arrangement, “If You’re Blue” is “jazz club” cool with carefree, judicious licks and spirited interplay. In a unique finale, “Sunshine Follows The Rain” is meditative and emphasizes a supple refinement.
Keep Talkin’ represents jazz at its finest!
In Walked Bud
Boogie Stop Shuffle
Golden Slumbers/You NeVer Give Me Your Money
If You’re Blue
Sunshine Follows The Rain