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.