by Tom Pierce
Yuko Kishimoto made a number of key decisions prior to this actual recording that contributed nearly as much to its success as the studio work. Chief among these was establishing a well-defined purpose and direction of the CD as an opportunity to feature nine of her intriguing compositions that other musicians & fans in the Capital District have enjoyed the past several years.
Selecting three extremely compatible & skilled musicians (saxophonist Lee Russo, bassist John Menegon and drummer Conor Meehan) was obviously also a key decision. And from a practical business perspective, her decision in April to use the Kickstarter program to fund the project was very wise. Her well-established popularity & respect in the Jazz community enabled her to reach her financial goal by getting 65 backers to respond in just 18 days. Now on to the music.
The uptempo opening track “All That’s Nice” has a spirited thrust from all members of the quartet to immediately engage the listener to start this journey. “It’s A Mystery” with the superb Lee Russo on soprano sax (which he uses on a number of the songs), is a lightly prancing ¾ time composition with a pensive, searching melody that quickly captures one’s attention. The song also demonstrates the value of John Menegon & Conor Meehan working effectively together to supply the rhythmic
cushion the tune rests on.
A catchy, insistent, staccato-like melody dominates “Bow Bow Chow Mein”, a tune Yuko was inspired to write by the printed design of a skinny dog in Chinatown on a friend’s shirt. The song definitely achieves the playful quality (sort of like an excited puppy) that Kishimoto was striving for. The lively “Humming” is clearly the most hard-driving song on the album, with Yuko’s freewheeling solo very pleasantly reminding this listener of several of his favorite exuberantly skilled pianists from the 1950-60’s, Wynton Kelly, Phineas Newborn Jr and Sonny Clark.
“Sultry”, a sensually exotic medium tempo number, resulted from Yuko researching the various meanings of that adjective, used by bassist Lou Smaldone in a conversation to describe a hot night, standing outside Justins after a gig. The melody, the rhythm section’s hypnotic buoyancy, Lee Russo’s intense sax, and Yuko’s probing solo & heated comping, jointly conjure images of steamy excitement in the tropics.
Yuko originally composed “Elements” as a vigorous romp for the Big Soul Experience (BSE) of Keith Pray, who valuably serves as Producer on this CD. Many of us enjoyed this song performed by the big band at the Lark Tavern (sometimes with Kishimoto on piano), as well as being the spirited opening track on their CD, “Live at the Lark Tavern”. Although executed here by a quartet, it loses none of its compelling drive.
It should be obvious to readers at this point that Kishimoto, in both her writing & playing (as well as that of her cohorts), highly value melody. Virtually all of the CD’s selections, with some appropriate lyrics, would also make fine additions to the repertoire of a sensitive, well-equipped Jazz vocalist. This entrancing melodic quality is impressively enhanced by a free-flowing and swinging sense of adventure that altogether results in the kind of balanced, well-integrated Jazz most find dramatic and appealing.
Lastly, special kudos is accorded Ms Kishimoto for her own extremely well thought-out and informative CD liner notes. They are some of the most meaningful and comprehensive this observer has ever read by a musician (and a fairly young one, at that). Typical of this was her following highlighted message: “This album is dedicated to anybody who thought that me playing jazz was a good idea”.
This is especially poignant coming from someone who so triumphantly overcame so many challenges, after coming here 22 years ago from Japan as a high school exchange student, to become so well-educated and capable a female composer, pianist and bandleader in the demanding, competitive world of Jazz.
Since she had to recently return to her homeland, she will be definitely missed. Hopefully, one day she can return to the Capital District Jazz community, with more stimulating compositions and live performances.
Tom Pierce has had a burning passion for Jazz for over 50 years, initiated and fueled by seeing live in New York City, starting in the early 1960's, virtually every major artist still performing. He's been very happily living in Guilderland since 2001, as an active retiree sharing his love of music by writing online reviews for a number of web sites, preparing DVD presentations to various groups, co-Hosting Radio programs showcasing his favorite artists and busily supporting A Place for Jazz in a variety of ways.