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Yuko Kishimoto, Leo Russo, Mike Lawrence

Mike Lawrence

Yuko Kishimoto

Leo Russo

Yuko Kishimoto

Leo Russo

Tom Bellino

Photos by Rudy Lu

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one2one Concert Series
Athens Cultural Center
Athens, NY
December 4, 2010

by J Hunter

I’ve joked that Thom Bellino moved the one2one concert series down to Greene County because its former home in Kinderhook wasn’t remote enough. The fact is, though, the PlanetArts impresario has got a good thing going on at Athens Cultural Center – a storefront art gallery just off the main drag – and the intimate atmosphere was totally perfect for the Yuko Kishimoto Trio.

Known primarily as a composer who’s written and arranged for Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble, Joe Barna’s Sketches of Influence, and Michael Benedict Jazz Vibes, Kishimoto is also a classically-trained pianist with a Masters from Michigan State. While she’s appeared as a leader more than a few times, this was my first chance to see her as a player. This gig was originally supposed to be a duo show with bassist Mike Lawrence, but then local legend Leo Russo was added to the bill: Bellino had told Kishimoto she could add one more player to the mix, so Kishimoto thought (as she told the full house at ACC), “I should get the best!”

Russo was certainly the best choice for this date, as we all saw during the opening number “All that’s Nice.” He’s got this rich, warm tone that brings Stan Getz immediately to mind; it’s smooth in the best way possible, and it really made things comfortable as Kishimoto comped behind him and Lawrence took it straight down the middle. Russo’s approach was also a great set-up for Kishimoto’s first solo, which seemed to dance above the audience. While Russo evoked Getz, her attack rang of bill Evans, with a delicate combination of artistry and efficiency that translated into a lyric that was completely appropriate and utterly truthful.

One of the many pluses of ACC is the respect the crowd gives its performers – something that’s sadly rare in regular club venues. This allowed Kishimoto to take time between tunes and share her creative process. She had first written “Victoria" as a Latin-flavored birthday present for Justin’s former manager/emcee, but subsequent work morphed the piece into a lovely ballad that evokes images of misty rainfall and leaves floating on a pond. “All that’s Nice” was supposed to be the theme song for an all-female jazz group Kishimoto tried to put together. “Now it’s a tribute to the band that never was,” she added. The lilting waltz “It’s a Mystery” started life as a big-band piece, which made the three-piece arrangement all the more interesting, while the eminently sexy “Sultry” came from Kishimoto’s introduction to the word itself, as well as her subsequent investigation of its various definitions. “You decide which meaning goes with the song,” she laughed.

While Kishimoto hasn’t made a CD of her own (yet), she did give us her version of pieces recorded by other artists. She snapped her fingers to keep the beat alive during “Whatever You Say’, which appeared on Jazz Vibes’ The Next Phase; Benedict was in the audience, as was Jazz Vibes’ vocalist Julia Donnarumma. Lawrence lightened the tune’s multiple rests by adding Ron carter-like slides, making Kishimoto smile almost every time. (Lawrence made the rest of us smile most of the night with a solid foundation and solos that showed his own aggressive-but-lyrical bent.) “Yet to Come” is one of two Yuko tunes on Big Soul’s Live at the Lark Tavern, but we got to hear its roots as a smaller piece. Kishimoto had tried to write “Cerisia” as a tango for Big Soul pianist Dave Gleason, but “I couldn’t figure out how to do it,” she admitted. However, she was able to shape the piece into a bolero, and she upped its inherent romanticism by accompanying Russo and Lawrence on a Hammond Melodica. All the tune needed was an acoustic guitar and some cigarette smoke, and it could have passed for a Django Rinehart tune.

Kishimoto showed more flashes of Bill Evans on “Sultry”, and Monk reared his head on “Mystery” and the oddly swinging “Bow Wow Chow Mein.” Even so, she said her earliest jazz-piano influences were Old School players like James P. Johnson, who she cited as the major inspiration for the closer “Naughty but Nice.” The accompanying standing ovation must mean she learned her lessons well. This was the last one2one show of the season, but with any luck, this won’t be the last time I see Kishimoto lead the band.

J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz Programming) and Q104 WQBK/Albany. He is a frequent contributor to the web site All About Jazz and to the monthly music magazine State of Mind. He currently resides in Clifton Park.