Lucid Culture


Pianist Yoko Miwa Brings Her Purist Retro Sounds to Birdland

Artists who come from outside an idiom often have some catching up to do. In the process, some of them surpass others who grew up in that style. Yoko Miwa embodies a gritty, purist, 1960s take on jazz: the Japanese-born pianist’s music is a lot more about entertainment and tunes than insider snarkiness – or whatever it is that Snarky Puppy do. Her new trio album Keep Talkin’ is streaming at her music page. She’s playing Birdland on Jan 30 at 7 PM; you can get in for $20.

The album is a mix of originals and inventive covers, with a remarkable freshness and road-tested camaraderie: these expansive tracks really nail what she sounds like live. Miwa opens with the title cut, a vampy latin soul groove where she weaves in some uneasy Monkish harmonies toward the end. She’s a hard hitter, as she reaffirms in a dynamic, leaping take of In Walked Bud, focusing on Monk’s wary passing tones. Bassist Will Slater shifts between dancing melody and walking the changes hard as drummer Scott Goulding swings it toward New Orleans and then back.

Secret Rendezvous, a straightforward, syncopated clave tune is next, Goulding subtly pushing the beat with his tropical rimshots and a purposeful drum solo out. The Bill Evans-influenced, lyrical Sunset Lane manages to be ripplingly kinetic and bittersweet all at once. Miwa reinvents Charles Mingus’ Boogie Stop Shuffle as a stripped-down but no less turbulently bluesy showstopper.

She makes a diptych out of the Beatles’ Golden Slumbers and You Never Give Me Your Money, sticking close to the originals while adding an unexpectedly starry solo, picking up with a rather crushing attack on the second tune. The trio work a spring-loaded pulse in the understatedly brooding, modally-charged, intensely crescendoing Tone Portrait: it’s the album’s darkest track.

Miwa draws on singer Maria Rita’s waltzing version of the Brazilian ballad Casa Pre-Fabricada for a striking, emotionally direct sparkle. The pianist reinvents Joni Mitchell’s Conversation as a dynamically bristling, absolutely exhilarating gospel anthem that brings to mind Fairport Convention as much as, say, Mulgrew Miller. It’s one of the finest things Miwa has ever recorded: if only she could have given it a proper ending instead of a fade out!

If You’re Blue is a cleverly bluesy, straight-up swinging paraphrase of Puttin’ on the Ritz with bracing Monk references. Miwa closes the album with the epic, wistful ballad Sunshine Follows the Rain, guest bassist Brad Barrett adding moody washes and subtly sinuous melody, Miwa drifting into stern gospel territory once again.

January 25, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yoko Miwa Makes an Eclectically Lyrical Blue Note Debut

[republished from New York Music Daily]

In her Blue Note debut yesterday, Yoko Miwa showed off a comfortable but hard-charging command of several jazz vernaculars. She made elegant ragtime out of Monk, worked a playful carnaval pulse back and forth on one number, and managed to make a jauntily entertaining trip to New Orleans out of what was essentially a one-chord vamp. But the vernacular that she excelled the most with was her own. That style favors lots of big block chords stretched mostly across the piano’s midrange, which she builds expansively but purposefully to big, glittering, anthemic crescendos. Think of a more carefree Brad Mehldau (that shouldn’t be hard!) and you’re on the right track.

When she wasn’t doing that, the Boston-based pianist pulled plenty of other tricks out of the bag: pensively spacious minor-key blues, a scampering righthand against a stern left, tension and release around a central tone, intricately conversational interplay with the guys in her fantastic trio (Will Slater on bass and Scott Goulding on drums), and the occasional unrestrained glissando to take a phrase or a chorus all the way over the top. She’s fun to watch and just as tuneful.

She opened with a confident, spaciously swinging take of A Beautiful Friendship, Slater’s solo matching her steady, methodical upward trajectory. Pathways, an original, was one of the high points of her first set, rising from an anthemically circular solo piano groove to an animated samba beat; Miwa had just as much fun sending the rhythm section away and swinging by herself as she did engaging in a tightly spiraling, interlocking web of melody with Slater’s edgy upper-register lines. Goulding worked terse, subtly ornamented shuffles for most of the set, concluding Miwa’s cinematic, darkly majestic, enigmatically blues-infused 2013 indie film theme Sunshine Before the Rain with a deliciously torrential cymbal cadenza. Miwa made similarly moody blues out of Patsy Cline’s So Wrong and wound up the set on a high note with another original, In My Dreams, all three musicians choosing their spots, Miwa using it as a launching pad for some unexpectedly rapidfire righthand runs down out of the tinkliest high registers.

And the day got off to a good start before the concert with a guy who’d managed to wheel a baby grand into Washington Square Park, where he furiously rubbed his hands together between numbers in order to keep the circulation going on such an unexpectedly chilly morning. That he was able to turn in an absolutely exquisite, thoughtfully dynamic take of Rachmaninoff”s G sharp minor prelude under those conditions portends good things for the guy’s career, whoever he is.

March 24, 2014 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment