Cobalt Blue is not your average piano trio record, because Eri Yamamoto is not your average pianist. Nonetheless, throughout the record, we are greeted with familiar phrases in voices that remind us of old friendsKeith Jarrett with DeJohnette on standards, even a little Evans or Gershwin. Lots of McCoy Tyner. Yamamoto's music is equal parts playfully light and adventuresome.
Yamamoto is Osaka-born and classically bred, never having played a lick of jazz until her arrival in New York City, apparently. She plays with above average technical dexterity and flawless execution, yet still has a natural swing to her sound. The pianist has called New York home since 1996, developing a friendship with Thirsty Ear Records impresario Matthew Shipp at her regular gig at the East Village's Avenue B Social Club.
Yamamoto's rhythm section partners, drummer Ikuo Takeuchi and bassist David Ambrosio, are apt in support, rarely taking the lead and hardly ever outshining the pianist. Cobalt Blue is Yamamoto's show, and rightfully so.
The young and gifted Yamamoto was featured on William Parker's terrific Luc's Lantern (Thirsty Ear, 2005), where she played consciously in the background, a more subdued accompanist than Parker fans are used to hearing from Shipp. Cobalt Blue, however, finds Yamamoto speaking more clearly and decisively.
"Melodica Chops is thoughtful and deliberate. Every eccentricity found in Yamamoto's playing is unveiled in this first track. At face value she seems carefree, playing light and with wonder. But there is so much more going on! Yamamoto doesn't try to cram notes into small spaces; she isn't showy, despite her obvious talent. She makes her style known right from the get go and stays true to form over the course of eight more tracks.
The smoky grooves of the title track sound too lounge to be jazz, too good to be true, shining like the vinyl touched by Thievery or St. Germain. The next piece, "Hot Coffee, is just that, frenetic and alive. Takeuchi takes a simple but effective solo.
"Irving Place is soothing, sexy and coola vibe that continues onto "A Little Nap. Yamamoto thoughtfully handles two standards, Cole Porter's "I Love You and Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away From Me both quality covers, but Yamamoto's real strength is in composition.
Cobalt Blue may be the hardest bopping we've heard from Thirsty Ear to date. This isn't Spooky's illbient or even Matthew Shipp's exploratory eclecticism, no Sex Mob or spoken word. Yamamoto sounds both familiar and new; she's both a standard-bearer and breaker. The overall feel of this record is a slow groove, the overall impression an instant classic.
Personnel: Eri Yamamoto: piano; David Ambrosio: bass; Ikuo Takeuchi: drums.