1. Before the Wind
2. The Radiance
3. It’S All That Matters
4. Valley In the Deep Sea
5. Lone Winds Blow
7. Body and Soul
8. Everything I Love
9. Yet Again At Will
10. All Or Nothing At All
Megumi Yonezawa (p)
Mike McGuirk (b)
Mark Ferber (d)
One of the powers that music holds is the ability to sway emotions and atmospheres. Hearing music can make a listener remember a special moment, feel a certain way, or have a sensory experience beyond the aural. For pianist Megumi Yonezawa, the atmosphere in a room changes as soon as a musical note has been struck.
Yonezawa wants to utilize her command of the musical language to provide listeners with the sense of immersion in the best moments of a day. Her new recording, Resonance, is a collection of original compositions and creatively arranged standards that will transport those who indulge into pleasant mindsets.
Originally from Japan, Yonezawa relocated to the United States to study at Berklee School of Music in Boston. Upon moving to New York City, she took the piano chair in Greg Osby’s band on the recommendation of Jason Moran. In 2016, Yonezawa released her debut album, A Result of the Colors, on Fresh Sound New Talent and recently released a collaborative recording with Ken Kobayashi and Masa Kamaguchi called Boundary on ESP-Disk.
The pianist met the members of her long running trio on a recording session for Norwegian guitarist Jostein Gulbrandsen in 2016. Bassist Mike McGuirk and drummer Mark Ferber were perfect foils for her, as they were responsive and flexible to her music’s demands and have been members of her trio ever since.
Yonezawa’s compositional style relies heavily on the blending of jazz and contemporary classical music elements. For her, the freedom of expression within the music provides some of the most important and pleasing moments. Yonezawa’s music finds a balance of form in freedom and freedom within form that allows for a special expressiveness.
This dazzling improvised session features three Japanese expats operating a bit outside of their usual inside-out milieu. Pianist Megumi Yonezawa and drummer Ken Kobayashi live in New York, working in various contexts; after finishing her studies at Berklee, the pianist played with Greg Osby and dropped a meditative trio session a few years ago. Bassist Masa Kamaguchi lives in Madrid, but makes regular trips to New York, where he’s been a steady presence in a trio with pianist Jacob Sacks and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. Together, though, this trio has delivered a recording that eclipses all of their previous work.
Apart from the standard “I’ll Be Seeing You,” which the trio dispatches in a luxuriant sprawl, the music is collectively improvised. Throughout the recording, the group operates with exquisite patience, pushing the music forward with tender consideration, primarily driven by Yonezawa’s unsentimental lyricism and effective use of space—recalling the sound-spreading brilliance of Paul Bley. On upbeat material, like the skittering “Tremor,” she teases out crisp variations from short, pithy phrases while the rhythm section shuffles underneath. “Wavelength” adapts an almost martial drive in its insistent sense of forward motion, with Yonezawa hammering out glassy refractions.
If Boundary is a listener’s first encounter with Yonezawa, a performer who’s been on the New York scene for a significant amount of time, the album’s strength might come as a surprise. And the recording certainly should raise her profile.
A Result of the Colors
1. A Result of the Colors
2. Children of the Sun
4. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
6. For Heaven's Sake
7. Nor Dear or Fear
8. A Letter from Stillness
Megumi Yonezawa (p)
John Hebert (b)
Eric McPherson (d)
A Result of the Colors
Those outside of New York City, where Megumi Yonezawa currently resides, may only recognize the Japanese pianist, if anywhere, as sidewoman for Greg Osby (see 2004's Public on Blue Note), who brought her onboard following an enthusiastic endorsement from none other than Jason Moran. It was in Osby's band that she developed a rapport with drummer Eric McPherson, and along with bassist John Herbert forms the trio of this, her leader debut. Being such an inaugural enterprise, it invites listeners as if spectators through the doors of a newly opened art gallery, absorbing each track as a painting to be admired. This is, of course, one of many possible interpretations of the title song, which for the composer reflects a spectrum of human experiences. Its cocktail of nostalgia and forward thinking signals a full talent at the keyboard. Yonezawa's pianism clears roads of resistance with intelligence, interlocking with her rhythm section's arcs of brushwork and resonant bassing, and all with a comportment beyond her years.
Between this opener and a restless "Epilogue," Yonezawa, as she puts it, "dialogues" with the freedom of expression that is her muse. What begins as a rubato feeling out of territory locks into the off-kilter swing of "Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde" and "Nor Dear or Fear," both of which feature appropriately bipolar playing from the bandleader and smooth renderings at the kit from McPherson. Herbert, for his part, emboldens Yonezawa's beauties in the enigmatic "Untitled." As the deepest valley in the album's topography, it's also its most comfortable and integrated, while "Sketch" makes up its cartography as it goes along.
But it's Yonezawa who stretches and primes the canvas of every tune, as made obvious in "Children of the Sun." Inspired by the vivaciousness of youth at play, it sports a tropical feel that shows her breadth as a colorist. As in her rendition of the standard "For Heaven's Sake" (the only of the album's nine tunes without a claim to her pen), she taps a wellspring of spirit, love, and faith. With a grandeur that is yet tempered by intimacy, it ascends patiently into sunlight, flexing like a bird's hollow bones. More than anywhere, one can hear shades of her many influences, ranging from J. S. Bach and Claude Debussy to Stevie Wonder and Keith Jarrett. In tending to these, she walks a middle ground through continents of liberation and precision. Even in the stilted dissonances of "A Letter from Stillness," she binds seemingly divergent planes with a strong emotional adhesive.
"Faced with endless choices in life as we are," says Yonezawa of this album's overall theme, "we nevertheless create lives of our own the moment we make a choice," and it's precisely her willingness to encourage the freedom not only of the music but also of the listening that makes this one choice you won't regret.
All About Jazz - Tyran Grillo
Norwegian-born, New York-based guitarist Jostein Gulbrandsen makes a modest splash with this set of eight originals. The composing is in-the-tradition and buoyant throughout, and harnesses the abilities of an enviable band. Bassist Mike McGuirk exudes plenty of sunshine in opener "Gee Wheez," revealing a carefree undercurrent that infuses the entire session. Drummer Mark Ferber catches his own share of spotlight in the title track, across which the bandleader links one thoughtful note after another. Although perhaps ironic given the sentiment, a nostalgic feeling prevails, as also in "Psalm." This is another chambered nautilus for McGuirk's painterly soloing, even as Gulbrandsen and pianist Megumi Yonezawa intertwine with the unforced unity of primary colors forming secondary blends. Yonezawa enchants further in "Unbroken Circles," ending the album's first half in a spirited dance. In tandem with Gulbrandsen's itinerant arcs, her points and lines speak to the heart.
"Cold Times" begins the second half with a mid-tempo blues which, like "Monkey Biz" two tracks later, finds the band serving a holistic meal. The "New Tune" that follows is emblematic of the delicacy this quartet can achieve, due in no small part to Yonezawa's precisely translated impulses and Ferber's skipping snare. "Another Waltz," in both name and mood, recalls latter-day John Abercrombie and finishes out the album with future assurance, again foregrounding the dialogs between guitar and piano on which this CD rests its soul. It's a quiet anthem for a noisy world, one that folds itself like a treasured article of clothing to be tucked away for a special occasion.
Little Green Men
1. Firefly Theme
2. Terminator Movie Theme
3. Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles
4. What's New
5. Love Theme From Superman
6. Solo TK2
7. How Insensitive
8. Tunnel Chase
9. Tron Anthem
10. Tron Scherzo
Michael Pinto (Vib)
Megumi Yonezawa (p)
Chris Tordini (b)
Garrett Brown (d)
Little Green Men
Vibraphonist Michael Pinto combines two interests on his debut recording as a leader: jazz and science fiction. Joined by pianist Megumi Yonezawa, bassist Chris Tordini, and drummer Garrett Brown, the bulk of the music heard on Little Green Men was written for science fiction films. John Williams ' "Love Theme from Superman" is easily the best known of the movie pieces Pinto chose, as it was recorded by a wide variety of pop singers and a few jazz artists, too. Pinto offers a fairly straight-ahead interpretation, though his aggressive solo over the dreamy theme takes it to new destinations. The repetitious rhythm of the theme from "The Terminator" is anchored by the bass and drums as Pinto and Yonezawa take liberties with it while maintaining the tension. The quartet also does justice to the television theme "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Sarah Connor's Theme," conveying the lonely, weary title character as she flees from the seemingly invincible android sent to kill her. It seems unlikely that other jazz musicians performed Wendy Carlos' music from the film Tron, though Pinto reveals the potential of two of Carlos' compositions from the decades-old movie. An added bonus is Pinto's unaccompanied "Solo TK2" which is reminiscent of jazz master Gary Burton's solo performances. There is also a pair of standards, including a spacious, lyrical setting of Bob Haggart's timeless ballad "What's New" and a lengthy, low-key treatment of Antonio Carlos Jobim's bittersweet bossa nova "How Insensitive." This is an impressive beginning for Michael Pinto, he will be a vibraphonist to watch.
Fresh off last year’s St. Louis Shoes, Greg Osby’s most accessible date yet, comes Public, a new live album that features many of the same tunes-“Summertime,” “Shaw ‘Nuff,” and “Bernie’s Tune”-and a similar lineup. If you are one of those types that thinks an artist is taking it easy by releasing a live CD instead of a studio recording, then check out Structure (ACT), a fantastic outing in which the alto saxophonist joins forces with drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, guitarist Adam Rogers and bassist Jimmy Haslip.
The Structure band is a long overdue venture for Osby in that it reunites him with his longtime friend Carrington. With a shared history that dates back to the late ’70s, it’s almost inconceivable that Structure is their first bona fide group effort. “We’ve always aspired to have a cooperative group, but given the logistics of where we live and the current jazz climate, it was very difficult to make happen,” Osby says. “Working musicians have to keep on working. Every day off is income lost.”
Fortunately, as Carrington was preparing a European tour in support of her splendid 2002 disc, Jazz Is a Spirit (ACT), something clicked: She decided to use the tour to introduce a new cooperative that featured her longtime friend. Osby and Carrington eventually knuckled down to map out the band’s context, agreeing on a quartet featuring guitar and electric bass. Then, it was time to figure out the other members. Carrington had developed a musical simpatico with Jimmy Haslip when the bassist’s longtime ensemble, Yellowjackets, was between drummers; she sat in with the band on a dozen or so gigs. “Through those gigs, I developed a desire to play more with Jimmy,” she says. “I thought he would be perfect for this group, because I didn’t want the group to be too straightahead but with the capability to go into that. When he walks the bass on electric, the music actually feels like it’s supposed to.”
Structure projects an undeniable cohesiveness that superbly plays to each member’s strengths and personalities, as instrumentalists and composers. From Rogers’ plaintive tone poem “Columbus, Ohio” and Haslip’s avant-gardish “Omega” to Osby’s tricky “Facets Squared” and Carrington’s propulsive “Mindful Intent,” the music’s freshness and exemplary execution testifies that Structure isn’t some half-hearted afterthought. “This is a true meeting of minds, personalities, intellect and styles,” Osby says. “We wanted to represent where we all thought music should have wound up being in the new millennium as opposed to being another warmed-over version of something that already existed in a greater form.”
It’s kind of like Buddhism: many in body, one in mind,” Carrington says of the group concept. “You can’t have a lot of egos involved when you have a leaderless group. You’re going to bump heads a little bit, but you at least need have to have good conflict resolution skills and respect for one another. Collectives aren’t the easiest things in the world.”