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.

TRIcrhO – Lily Pad – 11/5/17

Tricrho 11:5:17

Eriko Yamaki Mercure is an elegantly eclectic pianist, drawing from classical studies in Tokyo, and jazz at Berklee College of Music. She has a sense of architecture, and play, so her music is a fun, slowly moving series of structures with a quick pace. All the songs she plays are originals, and they have romance and pathos, and they are lively, with forays into far and near places. She is in touch with the whole jazz palette. She is always unexpected, and always rewarding.

“Friends From Afar” starts with a rubato solo, with touches of Schubert, then abruptly goes into heavy swing, with drummer Mark Fairweather dropping rapid, syncopated bombs. Then it’s a plane of relaxed tempo pastel trio interplay, with strong, subtle backing from electric bassist Dave Mercure, who bows and draws his notes out long, to presage a great crescendo from Yamaki Mercure, which ends the song.

Oboist Joel Bard, and clarinetist Stephanie Clark, join the trio for their next number, “Morningside Heights.” The winds play a baroque duet before the trio comes in with a Latin beat. Here we get to see Yamaki Mercure as an accompanist, as she patiently accents the melodious, lyrical harmonies of clarinet and oboe, then adds a peppery spice to Mercure’s funky stops on bass. Her solo is delightful. Complex but limpid, sparkling, glistening.

“Get Well” is s gentle ballad, with jumps into racy interplay, and slips into reflective, soft explorations of mood. “Red Sox”, which the trio has played before, goes well with the winds, which work in different direction than the song, which has a modern but extroverted feel, complex chord structures with stride-like licks. But Clark on clarinet shifts her tone, giving it a brassy feel, and Bard’s oboe is very beautiful, sustaining the liquid sonorities of the conservatory.

It’s the trio by itself on “9 O’clock,” which has the intricate, mechanical feel of the inner workings of a clock. The tempo undulates, as usual, so it is never easy to pinpoint exactly the tone of any of the ensemble’s songs. They can have a sense of rush, exuberance, humor, as this one does, all at once. But Yamaki Mercure always goes very deep in her playing, so there is always the sense of reaching an inner core, and a drive.

“Sometime” is another number with a Latin feel, this one very dark and romantic, with stretches of open sky which the winds evoke. There are touches of all phases of jazz in this one, as in all of the songs, and it has the feel of going many places at once, like a Miro.

Yoko Miwa Trio, Thelonious Monkfish, 6/23/17

Yoko Miwa Trio 6:23

Opening up the summer with her music hitting 24 on national jazz radio charts, Yoko plays an upbeat swing number with bluesy chords, and lots of percussion from Scott Goulding. She’s heading up into the sky. She’s playing lines that walk above the bass, and leap and hop. Happy, short sashays into nowhere, chops on the keyboard which lead to a sparkling, abrupt end.

Segueing into a light ballad, she turns slow glissandi like thoughts reconsidered, and reconsidered again. On arco bass, Brad Barrett takes to these with speculation, putting her whispers into words. Then she is back, with more strength, grandeur, with conclusive pinpoints and intricate, eloquent elaborations, with an effervescent finish.

Next is a bluesy number, with stride suggestions, Barrett emphatic, with heavy, thumping thuds, Goulding with brushwork on the snare, and cymbal taps. The stride gets bright and heavy, with ruminative, soft culminations. She is blocking with her left hand, turning note cycles with her right, and this dialogue with herself ends with a scream, both left and right hands coming together, glittering, and loud.

Next is a modal, modern Latin number, both pensive and festive. As she can carry on dialogues with left and right hands, she can express concurrent emotions with her playing, working and balancing out the feelings in her head. This one even gets funky, with kind of a hiphop beat, and breaks into rock mode for a while, before rising to another level of Latin scuffling and shuffling. She is so multifaceted here. She goes in doors, opens up new ones, closes ones behind her. She enters new worlds, the bright sun shining; then she is in the shade of gray clouds.

Yoko shows no signs of stopping her evolution of her visions of the trio. With each year, with each new record, she shows more that can be done with it, within these short confines, developing panoramas and spectacles you would have expected could only come from a larger unit. She keeps refining, revising, and retuning her language, sharing it with her drummer and bassist, and expanding its vocabulary, so there is endless topic of which to speak.

Pathways, Yoko Miwa, Ocean Blue Tear Music (2017)

Yoko Miwa, Pathways

Yoko has achieved an outstanding place in music, climbing the reaches of fine, straight, tasteful mainstream jazz, in the New England and New York area, as well as the rest of the East Coast, and Japan. She has made seven albums now, with her own songs, many jazz songbook standards, and stunning, creative renditions of sixties’ and seventies’ pop songs.

There are two of these on her new CD, Pathways, Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark”, and Lennon’s “Dear Prudence”, from the 1968 Beatles White Album (The Beatles). In addition, there are two numbers from Marc Johnson, a prime bassist with Bill Evans, and four originals. Yoko goes to many places in her albums, hard hitting modal, spicy Latin, dark, mysterious romance, and heartbreaking ballads.

These are in display here, but what makes her new album remarkable, and remarkably innovative, is the racing, playful interplay of the instruments of the trio: drums, piano, and bass. Each has an equal part, with none dominating, but sharing, democratically, endless, intriguing dialogues. Yoko has become an even more fabulous listener, responding with aplomb to the sonic statements of bass and drums, weaving them together, and taking them to new places.

Yoko has always been a grand pianist, playing in the grand style, but here she is often coming into the background, though still prancing back as a stark, beautiful presence, like the sketched trees or people of a snowy Asian mountain-scape. She still has a Japanese humility, but she has become a world, global jazz figure, standing with the best pianists of her age, or any age.

Pathways opens with Marc Johnson’s “Log O’Rhythm”, rhythmic, peppery, and fun. Yoko’s “Lickety Split”, which follows, is bright, and festive; “Court and Spark” starts slow and mellow, and then works deeper into introspective exploration, like swimming in dark night cave waters. Her “Lantern Light” is classic Yoko: grand, elegant, romantic, plaintive, questioning, open-ended, endless. Closing with “Dear Prudence”, she takes this number to a new level, with shifting planes of lightness and darkness, getting heavy and light in turn, relentlessly reaching into its inner source, the source of The Beatles, the source of music.

The Port of Life – Jean John (RTV SLO, 2016)


The Port of Life
Jean John
RTV SLO (2016)

The Port of Life is the new CD by Jean John (born Zan Tetickovic), Slovenian born composer and drummer, which has already won Album of the Year from Slovenia’s major music publication, JazzEtna.

Somehow this record makes me think of another concept album, Herbie Hancock’s 1969 The Prisoner. It’s got big washes of brass, waves of modal piano, cinematic strings. It recounts the immigrant’s experience, Jean John’s own, having moved to New York City in 2011 – and the worldwide immigration crisis at large. It is expansive, dramatic, and understated.

You can hear flashes of McCoy Tyner’s large ensemble work, Count Basie’s surging songs from the ’50s (as in an album like Atomic Basie), lots of Mingus, with the complex time shifts and juxtapositions of old and new. John has a great command of music history. Even the classical undertones are considered, bringing to mind, for one, Schubert.

There is a sound clip midway from President Obama saying how we are all immigrants and this should be repeated often and frequently. We can all relate to this, even in our own present lives, if it’s something as simple as moving to a neighborhood very different from the one where we grew up. The Port of Life reflects on and reflects this, with a perspective and a sound which is universal.

John is a silent drummer, I could almost say. If you listen carefully, you can hear the complexity and subtlety of his rolls and dynamics, but he uses his set almost as a conductor for this largely orchestral work which, for all that is, through and through, from beginning to end, saturated with and representative of the best of classic jazz.

Yoko Miwa Trio – Thelonious Monkfish – 9/2/16

Yoko 9:2

Yoko plays with the sound of September tonight, sultry, but cool, bouncy, with a touch of shade. Scott Goulding shimmers with sun riding the cymbals; tonight’s bassist, Keala Kaumeheiwa, resonates deep and smoothly, and tunefully, to open.

She continues with a Latin number, almost romantic as a ballroom waltz, with minor ninths to give it a contemporary feel. The percussion is wonderful. Kaumeheiwa holds it largely in his steady bass, with some bass drum from Goulding, and more cymbals. Yoko works in some octaves with the sonority of bells, somehow in that gesture making it more festive and Latin.

As usual, Yoko is a wonderful listener, weaving what Kaumeheiwa and Goulding do into how she approaches the keyboard, so the rhythm section at times becomes foreground. She has an uncanny sense of this, foreground and background, like an Asian landscape painting.

Her third song, her own, “Fadeless Flower”, is slow, pristine, and gentle, in swinging waltz time. Speed picks up as the song moves along, and she solos, with intricate finger work, blocking with her right hand, with melody lines in the left, shaking things up and reversing them. Then the speed modulates again, getting a little slower, but the song getting more splendorous and exuberant, to cool down once again.

“Girl Talk” is bluesy, as down and dirty as a clean, structured player gets. The next tune has an intriguing, almost rock beat, with a repeated, descending funky bass riff that breaks open like a pop song. The improvisation is abstract and advanced. Lots of quick chord clusters, stops and starts, as the beat goes on with bass and drums. Lighting variations and trills as the song climaxes, then deep, soul felt washes, almost reminiscent of Janis Joplin in 1970. It’s “Dear Prudence”! The song John Lennon wrote with The Beatles, in India, for Mia Farrow’s sister.

Yoko has this power to surprise you, transforming popular songs so you almost don’t recognize them, yet still distilling the essence to what they really are, so when you find out, it all makes sense. The other thing that’s really nice about her is her vast palette, stopping on a dime to turn the styles of the songs she plays. There is also her overarching sense of architecture, so everything fits together, a grand palace with many rooms.

Yoko Miwa -Thelonious Monkfish – 8/5/16

Yoko Thelonious Monkfish August

Yoko’s sets at Thelonious Monkfish are very lively. She’s sensitive to environment, so it’s a different scene to the calming sounds she sends out at her Sunday brunch at Ryles in Inman Square. She’s also sensitive to lineup variation, so tonight’s set, with bassist Sean Farias has different textures to the last one I saw, with The Fringe’s John Lockwood.

Opening with a Sonny Clarke number, “Something Special”, she rides Farias’ long, varnished tones like a tightrope. She’s balancing and moving at the same time. The song is spicy and percussive. She shifts radically to a soft but intense Latin number. She’s limber and spiritual here, pensive, then bursting out with kaleidoscopes of chords up and down the keyboard.

She sandwiches a John Lennon song, “Love” (from his solo 1970 Plastic Ono Band) with two numbers with a hard bop feel, and follows with an original, “Lantern Light.” This is classic Yoko, the yearning, the melancholy sadness, the grandeur and the fireworks displays of arpeggios, for all that continuously listening to her trio, drum and bass, and gently responding.

Yoko started work on a new album in July, with six albums behind her. The progression shows a musician becoming bolder and bolder with each new release. Sometimes jazzier, but also more rocking. She plays a lot of Beatles songs. “It’s funny, my name is Yoko and I play lots of John Lennon songs,” she says. She said there’d be more on the next record, but was coy about which ones. I suggested “Tomorrow Never Knows”, the 1966 acid drenched number from Revolver with lines from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. She smiled. Who knows?

Yoko is radiant and intelligent, with a light sense of humor, and dazzling focus. I have been listening to her for five years. She has never let me down.

TRIchrO – Lilypad -Cambridge – 7/10/16

Eriko Lilypad


The first number I hear is a waltz, steady, with bright tones from Eriko Mercure on piano, alternating with straight-out funk from Dave Mercure on electric bass, and Mark Fairweather, on drums, switching between heavy thuds, and soft cymbal sweeps. The tone lightens, with Eriko doing soft swing. The tempo keeps changing. It can get elegant and romantic, with the focus on Eriko, her gentle glissandi, sharp chord blocks, contemplative flights up and down the registers. Then there are bluesy aftertastes.

The next number is “Gravity”. It is very geometrical. Circles and squares and jagged lines. Tension builds, and it is a rolling modal workout. Then again it is delicate, ornate, just like Chopin. Eriko plays alone, and she’s everywhere, back to the blues, segueing into Beethoven-like sonata, as the bass breaks in again, likewise alone, but rocking with harmonics and overtones. Fairweather takes his solo, with complex Latin infusions, but solid and syncopated and swinging. The three come together again with fitful bursts and sparks, one flame shooting out of another like a Roman candle. The end is sweet and grand.

There is a serene, serious logic to this music. It’s almost like you are hearing Eriko’s thought work, as if she were writing an essay, stuck on knotty quandaries, working around them into exuberant solutions. It is always stopping and starting, moving from one place to another, and back, with a solid foundation.

She is also playful, like a child playing with blocks, building imaginary villages. Her sources are many, and you are struck by myriad, haunting and enchanting, scenes as you stroll through them. But she keeps playing, rearranging the blocks, so it is always a changing village you are in even within one song.

TRIchrO has stop-on-a-dime rhythms, aromatic warmth, stride and swing, rushes of good energy. Their final number, “Friends From Afar”, is one such rush, where Eriko has the crystal effervescence of Cedar Walton, building one chord on top on another, with a racing pace. You never know where the trio will take you, but you always know where you are.

Yoko Miwa Trio – Thelonious Monkfish – Cambridge – 7/1

Monkfish (Yoko)

John Lockwood guests on bass tonight, who is a veteran of staple Boston trio The Fringe. He really anchors this session tonight. Steady, heavy, spiraling the trio sound, which is light and lively tonight. Scott Goulding, on drums, has a crispy swing.

Monfish (Lockwood)

Yoko introduces the group after the first number, “The Touch of Your Lips”, a Bill Evans song, her “favorite, favorite.” The crowd is loud in the restaurant, with much chatter, but the audience is with her. You can tell by the whoop when she says, “My name is Yoko Miwa.”

Monkfish (Goulding)

You never hear the same Yoko Miwa twice. Her tone shifts with her moods, and with your moods. She has a real feel for the blues, which she stomps loud and brash, but she gets morbidly personal, and you listen, often, to her stories with the patience of a lover.

Tonight she is extroverted, outgoing, blithely competing with the audience chatter, enjoying a kind of chatter of her own, with Lockwood and Goulding, on bass and drums. She also has dialogues with herself, exploring the various registers of the keyboard, with the independent hand action she is known for, the left hand throwing fourths and fifths, scattering them like confetti, as her right twists and turns out corkscrew melodies.

Yoko is at her best when she is opening up in the middle of a solo, exploring the deeps of her most personal emotions, bluesy as muddy waters, cutting open diapasons and sonorities as though she were cutting the pulp out of a pineapple, smoothing it all over, like she had just put new sheets on a new bed. She takes you on journeys, down exotic rivers, but she always makes sure you have a nice hotel where you can sleep.