When modernism hit the West early last century, everything was about industrial invention. Innovation has always been central to music, but as guitarist Joe Morris says, there is very little true innovation. Sometimes, as in Yoko Miwa’s case, it is cloaked in a reverence for the past that makes it seem buried in the past. But this is precisely Yoko’s innovation, that she continually mines the past, finding jewels in the jazz tradition she polishes with her Asian sensibility. She swings so well you could mistake her for Monk or Bill Evans or Horace Silver, but an invisible mist envelops it, as in a Japanese landscape, where the trees and mountains are grand, and the people are small.
In Yoko’s case, great jazz heroes are grand, and she is just their chambermaid at times, not because she is meek, but because her veneration is so total. Yoko restores the ecology of great jazz, when so many are simply trying to build a better mousetrap.
She plays The Beatles’ “For No One”, and it makes me cry. It is so invested in intricate classical music niceties, it is only when she gets to the chorus, past the song’s halfway mark, that I recognize it. Then it’s off to the delicate section of the suite from The White Album’s “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, which belies the arch, ironic cruelty of the song. She takes it to an entirely different place, where the natural elements of her soul converge and dissipate.
Will Slater & Scott Goulding
Yoko has a consistently recognizable style, but this can be deceptive, as she can shift gear abruptly and radically within on song, and with such subtlety and grace you don’t know what hit you.