Yamamoto ranges freely and widely within the parameters she establishes for herself.
Bill Tilland 2010-02-10
Eri Yamamoto was trained in Japan exclusively as a classical pianist and had virtually no exposure to jazz until her first visit to New York, where she witnessed a concert by veteran pianist Tommy Flanagan. After dedicating herself to jazz, she studied with Junior Mance, another highly respected blues-oriented pianist who was a fixture in early Dizzy Gillespie and Cannonball Adderley groups.
Both Flanagan and Mance are noted for their swinging but tastefully economical playing, so it comes as no surprise that Yamamoto’s approach is restrained, melodic and deeply rooted in the jazz tradition. However, she predominantly writes her own music and thus avoids the over-familiarity of standards. And she has been with her fine rhythm section (David Ambrosio on bass, Ikuo Takeuchi on drums) for 14 years and six recordings (counting this one), so her music is in the style of all the great jazz piano trios, with continual communication and interaction among the participants.
On this recording, the trio offers a solid program of ten pieces, five of which Yamamoto composed for a Japanese silent film. Except for one ballad, Let’s Eat, Then Everything Will Be OK, and the boppish, up-tempo I Was Born, everything is taken at medium tempos, but melodic and stylistic variations are sufficient to dispel any impression of sameness.
Yamamoto has a lovely touch and an active musical imagination. She uses grace notes to good effect and moves effortlessly from a spare, single-note right hand to added left-hand counterpoint and then, occasionally, to more vigorous two-handed block chords, although never according to any obvious improvisational formula. The limpid, melancholy opening piece, Attraction of the Moon, suggests Bill Evans at least initially, while the very bluesy Every Day shows off the Junior Mance influence.
Blue in Tunisia is an exotic, minor key exploration supported by the Middle Eastern flavour of Takeuchi’s percussion. Yamamoto’s playing can be oblique and rather abstract one moment (perhaps even a bit Monk-like), but then she will confound the listener’s expectations by sliding into a charming little folk melody of the sort used so effectively by Keith Jarrett – although her playing is generally much less extroverted than Jarrett’s.
Overall, Yamamoto’s approach on this recording is deceptively fluid. While she plays “in the pocket” throughout and doesn’t indulge in any bravura displays, she ranges freely and widely within the parameters she establishes for herself. Consequently, each piece shines with its own interior light.