Music

Eri Yamamoto Trio: Firefly

A longstanding piano trio makes its first magical live recording.


Eri Yamamoto Trio

Firefly

Label: AUM Fidelity
US Release Date: 2013-06-11
UK Release Date: 2013-06-11
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

The classic jazz piano trio—acoustic piano, acoustic bass, and trap kit—is about the most versatile ensemble in modern music. Even putting aside the decades of brilliant jazz trios, you can point to active groups in 2013 that define wildly disparate styles: from Vijay Iyer to Jason Moran to Brad Mehldau and on and on.

Eri Yamamoto is not as well know, but her trio with bassist David Ambrosio and drummer Ikuo Takeuchi has been together almost a decade and has levels of telepathy that are enviable. This is a band that consistently generates a sound of joy without falling back on many jazz clichés. In that regard, it's hard to imagine a jazz trio with more magic at its fingertips.

The title track is illustrative. It begins with a delicate Japanese folk song that Yamamoto taps out delicately using many repeated notes. The trio then enters with a related but original theme that uses "inside" harmonies but also skitters over a cool variation of 6/8 time. Yamamoto (who has roots in straight ahead jazz but plenty of experience with the likes of avant-downtown bassist William Parker) spins a series of variations that seem almost light and gentle, but they dance and move and rise and begin to gather momentum like a river built from a series of smaller mountain streams. Eventually, it's roaring.

At its most dancing and joyful, Yamamoto's trio can seem a bit like Keith Jarrett Lite, but that's an unfair simplification. The opening track, "Memory Dance", has a soulful/simple melody that spins into a grooving piano solo that stays consonant and fluid without ever rising to Full Jarrett levels of ecstasy. But, at the same time, the conversation she has with Takeuchi on drums is a marvel. And this strength recurs often on this date. Yamamoto is less a Very Imposing Pianist than she is a very good listener and leader. On "A Few Words", for example, she simply lets Takeuchi simmer under her ruminations as they both—together—bring things to a boil.

Some of the tunes here give the trio more room for experimentation and daring. "Heart" has a limited melody but sets up the band to move freely outside the theme, which it does in a gradual way, such that Yamamoto's return after the bass solo is a series of colors and flashes, each on original and interesting. "Real Story" has a gospel feel and backbeat in the rhythm section, and it seems to set the band free somewhat, being little more than two-chord vamp.

For me, the band is merely good but not as interesting when it is playing in an impressionistic mode. "Echo" sounds like material that Mehldau or even Chick Corea might excel with, but this seems merely like very good playing somewhat bleached of identity. "Around the Way" is a snappy and angular theme that swings, and Ambrosio's solo is tasty, but it doesn't take advantage of the trio's core strengths. "Playground" has a similar quality—cool music but hard to reconcile with what I like best about the band.

What can be missing on Yamamoto's recordings is a core of distinctive compositions. Her writing seems best when it is simple and provides a launching point for improvisations that move outside the harmonies and into excitement and texture. But it's near impossible to imagine any Yamamoto tunes being covered by other jazz musicians or really sticking in your head. Given that this live set draws on the trio's repertoire, widely, it tells you that this weakness is something general. It makes me eager to hear how the group might approach some standard material or songs written by other, like-minded musicians.

That said, this is a date to enjoy. The magic of the band comes often enough, even if it's not constant. If Eri Yamamoto is a less imposing pianist than some of the other folks leading great trios today, that doesn't lessen the pleasures of this band, at its best, working as the best bands must: very much together.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

‘The Avengers’ Offer a Lesson for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.