For her first disc as a leader away from her trio, Japanese pianist Eri Yamamoto has chosen to work in duo with four different partners: master bassist William Parker, veteran downtown New York saxophonist Daniel Carter and percussionists Hamid Drake and Federico Ughi. Classically trained, Yamamoto dedicated her life to jazz after a revelatory experience hearing pianist Tommy Flanagan in Central Park on a visit to her sister in 1995. This disc proves that her strong showing on William Parker's excellent Cornmeal Dance (AUM Fidelity, 2007) was no fluke.
What is more surprising is that such a rhythmically adept player as Yamamoto has selected two percussionists to accompany her. With Parker and Drake it may help that they are big names on the marquee, but that is not the case with Ughi, who is little known away from the downtown scene and his own 577 Records label. Whatever the reasoning, the bottom line is that it works beautifully.
Bookending the disc, the two duets with Ughi cast the drummer in a largely supportive role, coloring and accenting Yamamoto's churchy rolling piano on "Thank You" and essaying a sprightly bounce on the exuberant "You Are Welcome," where both dive into seat-of-the-pants syncopation, but still avoid getting in each others way. A similar pattern ensues with Drake's frame drum, gently pattering on the understated "Circular Movement," but more assertive and working hand in glove on the rootsy "Midtown Blues."
While melodic, Yamamoto's compositions avoid song form, instead exploring the rhythmic possibilities. With the exception of the upbeat "Subway Song," with its jaunty dialogue, the pieces with bass and saxophone are more lyrical, replete with conversational interplay, allowing Yamamoto's soulful side to come to the fore.
Notwithstanding the avant-garde roster, Duologue is a richly melodic and rhythmically delightful set. On this showing, Yamamoto's name will soon be the only one you need to see on the marquee to guarantee quality.
Personnel: Federico Ughi: drums (1, 8); Daniel Carter: tenor saxophone (2, 7); William Parker: bass (3, 5), Hamid Drake:
frame drum (4, 6).