Yoko 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.