Keiko Matsui - The Road...
by Thom Jurek
It's been four long years since pianist and composer Keiko Matsui released the spare, elegant Moyo. That is an atypical break for an artist who has recorded 22 studio albums since her debut in the late 1980s. Appearing on Shanachie for the first time, The Road was largely self-produced. Matsui appears in varying contexts here, from trios to quartets and quintets to an octet on a musically diverse set that sums up virtually every place she's been while continuing to point the way forward.
Some of these players have collaborated with her for decades while still others make their initial appearances. The opening "Secret Pond" utilizes Matsui's love of new age music in a context that also employs Japanese folk melodies and classical themes; it is arranged by Heigo Yokouchi and features bassist Reggie Hamilton and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta.
Cameroonian bassist, composer, and vocalist Richard Bona appears on the successive tracks "Falcon's Wing," and "Nguea Wonja." The former is a breezy minor-key affair with Matsui playing a classical theme counter to Bona's lithe, nocturnal bassline and shimmering wordless vocal. The latter is an exercise in world jazz that encompasses African and Latin rhythms in a stridently syncopated context. "Bohemian Concerto" is a dead cross between tango and flamenco with Matsui's piano trio pairing with a quartet of accordion, classical guitar, violin, and cello.
Kirk Whalum appears on the 21st century funky blues that is "Awakening" in a septet; he trades breaks with James Hara's guitar and Matsui. He also guests on the smooth-gooving "Affirmation," in which his soulful saxophone solo is the centerpiece. The set closes with the title track. Jackiem Joyner plays saxophone in the slowly developing tune which weds classical and new age.
Derek Nakamoto's arrangement places Joyner's bluesy saxophone in direct juxtaposition to Kay Ta Matsuno's guitar and dulcimer, but the track is captured by a knotty, startling piano solo by Matsui that ends in a percussive crescendo. The Road is yet another fascinating chapter in the career of a prolific artist whose approach to contemporary music knows no bounds.