Album Review: Keiko Matsui – The Road…

Normally I keep a safe sonic distance from anything that might be described as a jazz/new age hybrid. I generally like a bit of oomph in my music. But a disc that found its way into my inbox has also worked its way into my head. The Road… is the latest album from pianist Keiko Matsui, and though it most decidedly falls into the aforementioned genre classification, there’s a good bit more happening there. One needs to open up the ears a bit.

Matsui has released more than twenty albums, yet I had never heard (or heard of) the Tokyo-born keyboardist. That’s not altogether surprising, since she travels musical paths which I don’t follow. Yet while her music may best be described as new-age jazz, her compositional and performance styles have clearly been informed by other types of music. The accompaniment alone provides clues of this; though all the songs are built around her acoustic piano, there is plenty of synthesizer work, fretless bass guitar, ethnic percussion and classical instrumentation.

Keiko’s Matsui’s choice of musicians also makes it clear that she’s not content merely to provide soundtracks for elevator rides: how else to explain the presence of Vinnie Colaiuta on drums (even if the liner notes don’t spell his name correctly)? And sly little musical references abound on The Road…; “Falcon’s Wing” quotes ever-so-briefly from Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”

“Bohemian Concerto” features an introduction that (subtly) suggests progressive rock, and then heads into a catchy and straightforward melodic line. Elements of samba and Eastern European styles also figure into the song, but it all works somehow.

Close listening is a rewarding experience. But of course the casual listener can ignore all that, and let the tunes – mostly instrumental but occasionally featuring unobtrusive vocals from multi-instrumentalist Richard Bona) drift placidly, tunefully by.

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I have a material connection because I received a sample or review copy, or an item of nominal value that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am expected to return this item after my review.