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.