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More Listenings - Reviewing Yoko Miwa

November 12, 2019

Oh man, the single from Paul McCartney (Coming Up re: last weeks blog) was still on the turntable when I got home from the last(!) G. Love & Special Sauce show of the year, (at Billy Bobs down if Ft. Worth Texas - the worlds largest honkey tonk!) and I just had to give it a spin after piano time. What a great jam, hard not to move too. But then I decided to put on some jazz for my head. I got a pile of classics next to the receiver, and I’ve been meaning to step down to the main library in the basement, and freshen up and rotate the active listening selection.

I mean, there’s a lot of to get to, especially because I have a bunch of newer stuff on my phone as well - I’ve recently given in to the miracle of streaming. It’s pretty cool how much is available, and how the availability effects the listening situation. I always listen to my offline playlist when I walk the dog. And it’s cool, a song pops into my head and I can be like, “I wonder what that whole album sounds like?” I recently listened to Tea For the Tillerman by Cat Stevens - just because G wanted to play Wild World at his festival. I enjoy this intentional listening - within the proper form of the music - the LP based album, it gives a deeper understanding of the music.

It’s so easy to dig the next record of an artist you know too. Especially in jazz, it’s interesting to hear contemporary growth and progression. So I will admit I’ve listened to Yoko Miwa’s Keep Talkin’ a few times out on my dog walks, but I wanted to sit down and give it a proper listen on my system.

You will recall I wrote about their previous record called Pathways in July of 2017, and this record continues the good work. Solid, straight ahead contemporary jazz. Recorded with a fine, if slightly generic studio sound, I appreciated the the full presence of each instrument. Main bassist Will Slater has a rich deep tone, while fully acoustic sound. (The final track features bassist Brad Barrett who played on Pathways, with a fine tone as well.)

Drummer Scott Goulding is an old friend of mine, as I noted previously, and I really dig hearing him progress as a musician - soloing with larger and larger expression and dynamics. He plays an open and tonal kit, all the while maintaining his reserved cool vibe. And he’s just as comfortable coloring behind Ms. Miwa’s powerful groove as taking the drivers seat. I’ve always been a big fan of Scotts choice in sounds, a dry snare with a big brush sound, round tonal toms and kick, to balance his carefully open and shimmering cymbal work. It is certainly never too much, always playing the song, from inside the harmony.

Yoko herself, a Japanese-born Berklee Professor, plays with a strong, dare I say, commanding left hand. It may not be fashionable to reference Brubeck any more, but I can’t help to draw a direct line there to her unabashed use of fifths and driving modern rhythmic structures, especially considering her academic credibility. Her sound references the history directly in he musical narratives, to my ears sounding a bit like Erroll Garner playing through Keith Jarrett.

There are several originals as well as thoughtful covers of Beatles tunes, and the likes of Mingus and Monk - the laters In Walked Bud, (one of my favorites) on this album. It’s not ‘out’ by any means, maintaining a classic and straight forward feel throughout, but I dig it.

You should check them out live of course if you can, frequenting the Boston jazz houses regularly and occasionally touring the Northeast corridor. Keep feeling the music, it is our refuge, and a space of healing and rebirth no matter the genre.

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Portland OR - Cold and grey, Winter is coming.


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