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COURTESY JUN SATO / SHOUT! FACTORY
Pianist Keiko Matsui produced her new album, which was inspired by her trip to South Africa. CLICK FOR LARGE
Matsui finds new jazz licks on trip
THE TERM contemporary jazz can be many things, but in the hands of pianist Keiko Matsui, it's always lyrical and never treacly, representing the best of mainstream tastes.
Over her three-decade career, Matsui has grown in confidence as an artist to the point that her latest album is the first she's produced herself. Inspired by a recording trip to South Africa, the pianist has crafted an album that's classy and filled with generous-minded collaborations.
It's no wonder that she decided to use the Swahili word for "heart and soul" as her album's title.
The "moyo" is very much evident when she's matched with the great South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. He and a horn section play with the bright lilt that's indigenous to that country's music on "Old Potch Road," and adds a bit of Afro-Cuban punch in "An Evening in Gibraltar."
Matsui also pairs up nicely with soprano saxophonist Paul Taylor. He takes the lead on "After the Rain" and the dance-oriented "Black River." The pianist proves to be a judicious support player. Another saxist and "smooth jazz" favorite, Gerald Albright, helps out on tenor on the quiet-storm funk of "Into the Night," and takes up the soprano himself on the appropriately titled "Allure."
And it's nice to say that local-born and longtime arranger and keyboardist Derek Nakamoto continues to be Matsui's most sympathetic collaborator. His synthesizer programming is always supportive yet unobtrusive when contrasted to the richness of Matsui's piano playing. There's a luxurious texture to the ballad "When I Close My Eyes" and the closing "Marula" -- inspired by a fruit consumed by elephants in the wild -- showcases Matsui, Nakamoto and a fine string arrangement by Gary Stockdale.
So whatever your tastes in jazz, you'll find yourself easily enraptured by the artistry of Keiko Matsui.