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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Eri Yamamoto Trio – The Next Page (AUM Fidelity, 2012) ***½

By Tom Burris

Okay, I have to be honest.  Initially, I had some real problems with this album – the first two tracks, actually.  I’d put it on, hear a gentle folk melody that sounded like it was being reinterpreted by the early Keith Jarrett trio, which is pleasant, & then it would turn a corner into Bruce Hornsby-land and I would grit my teeth and try to endure…  Well, after a few attempts I finally wised up and began listening at the beginning of the third track.  Yamamoto’s solo in this song, “Just Walking,” is where it really starts to take off; the rhythm section glides with a pulsating groove that accurately corresponds with her every phrase.

Yamamoto is a real songwriter, not simply a riff-collector, and the trio, with bassist David Ambrosio and drummer Ikuo Takeuchi, often walks a very thin line between tightly-controlled melodicism and abstraction.  It’s an intricate design that shows the beauty in the details throughout the listening experience, from the controlled improvisation of the musicians to the way the recording is sequenced.  The overall sense is that this is a real band, pulling together in an effort to highlight the fact that this is a unified collection of real songs.  The only drawback is that this occasionally makes the music feel a little too polite.

The album’s tracks are also divided into two distinct sections, split by one minute of silence.  This is the “break” between sets, as the record has also been sequenced to reflect the feel of a live performance.  Right before the break we hear a bluesy, film noir-ish track that contains a loose solo from Ambrosio and a track with great group-swing that features Yamamoto’s unwavering sense of melody during her solo.  The track that ends the first “set” is the title track, which is a bit more abstract in its melodic approach than heard previously, without losing any of the conventional beauty of the earlier songs.  It’s a perfect set closer; and serves as almost a summary of everything that is good about this trio.

“Up & Down” opens the album’s second half with an aptly titled composition by Takeuchi.  It begins with a bang, then slows to a crawl, then speeds toward an up-tempo groove.  Melody here is abstract to the point of being skeletal, but the themes are as catchy as a hip-hop chorus.  No small feat!  “Dark Blue Sky” is dark and brooding, in the way that reminds me of the Dolphy-era Chico Hamilton group, mallets and all.  The bridge on this track is absolutely stunning – and I’d like to point out that Yamamoto has a gift for writing bridges.  The one in “Catch the Clouds” is another gorgeous break away from the routine before gently dropping the listener off back home.  The last cut, “Swimming Song,” clips along in 6/8 time with Takeuchi playing perfectly placed accents that propel the group forward.  Here Yamamoto reminds me of Andrew Hill, in the way she simultaneously pushes against and pulls from the harmonic structure of the music to arrive at impossibly original melodic statements.  The track is also perfectly suited for a drum break by Takeuchi, who makes the most of it.

The interplay between these musicians sounds telepathic.  And I have to admit that those first 2 tracks have grown on me.  I now hear the beauty of the folk melody of “Sparkle Song” and the lyrical elements of “Whiskey River” without (much of) a thought of Bruce Hornsby.  Sometimes you have to put your prejudices aside and open your ears a little.  That’s just the way it is.

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