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.

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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.