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Eri Yamamoto: Cobalt Blue

Eri Yamamoto
Cobalt Blue
Thirsty Ear

This sometime infant prodigy pianist now lives and teaches in New York, after a background in classical music, and a conversion to playing jazz on hearing the Tommy Flanagan trio.

So I read, although the opener of this set doesn’t suggest Flanagan, who wasn’t the most obviously distinctive of pianists. His greatness was in quality control, as Coleman Hawkins pointed out to contemporaries who settled for things Flanagan wouldn’t. Flanagan simply had better ideas, more ideas. Under normal circumstances he didn’t lazily trot out the sort of things most musicians use on bad nights to fall back on.

“Melodica Chops”, this set’s opener, has a title like those applied by Herbie Nichols to his very unusual compositions. On this mighty impressive opener, Ms. Yamamoto doesn’t sound like him either, or indeed like anyone I could specify.

The second track “Takeda No Komoriuta” is subtitled “Japanese Folk Song”, and also seems interesting, as does the third, and fourth. And as does this trio’s tendency and ability to shift perspective so that David Ambrosio’s bass sounds like its center. The fourth track has a really rousing start from Ambrosio. However, the excellent performance of Cole Porter’s “I Love You” — the fifth track — is less distinctive overall, though still individual and more refreshing than it should be. These initial tracks have developed a certain sameyness, the bane of several pianists who maintain an individual sound. The lady doesn’t lean on her bassist, but instead on the left-hand intonation which gives her playing its distinctive color.

The next track, “Irving Place”, is meditative after the fashion of some of the earlier music, and with the return of the individual tonality comes a tendency to rest on a repeated figure underlined by the bass and follow it, to the exclusion of more varied development. This is something which happens on most of the tracks here, regrettably.

Ambrosio is to the front opening “A Little Nap”, making a lovely noise toward the upper end of the bass register, but the accompaniment seems tied to keeping the music in the same place. If you are drawn to this circling aesthetic of stasis, which might favor meditation, you might think more highly of the experience than this reviewer can. The blurb says that “within [Ms. Yamamoto’s] originals are contained some of the most ferocious piano playing you may ever witness.” Interesting if true, but not represented on the present set.

“They Can’t Take That Away from Me” is opened by the bassist, but the pianist’s reharmonisation seems to turn the Gershwin tune into more circling and sometimes a tired, even hackneyed succession. Maybe she doesn’t know how often the same things have been done? It’s a little like the music was caught in a trap of minor, or restrictive mode.

“The Quiet of the Night” demonstrates Ms. Yamamoto’s prodigious talent as executante, though perhaps not quite to the same extent as in the opening of “Takeda No Komoriuta”. It is rather like hearing a great twentieth century concert pianist play a keyboard transcription of a simple folk song. Indeed, there is no more to “The Quiet of the Night”, with its unusual harmonies. If I can’t think of a specific example, it’s not worth bothering, while reviewing a CD with very few intriguing moments (maybe the first two tracks and the closer, and certainly the Cole Porter). Yamamoto has an ability apparently to do much, but here is not doing enough things to make this all that interesting a recording. Disappointing.

RATING 5 / 10