Kazumi Watanabe at House of Blues & Jazz, Shanghai
The crowd clapped fervently for an encore, and Watanabe and the pianist returned to the stage, beginning with a familiar movie standard (with an elusive title). Regardless, too cheesy for this listener's tastes. Not the note to end the night on. Where are Watanabe and his ten flying fingers? As though refusing to disappoint, the piano and guitar suddenly open up their engines, racing down some dusty desert road. But waitthe strains suddenly seem attuned to some misty English countryside. Then, to this listener's disappointment, back to the ballad which, though beautifully executed, lacked the soulful, spirited originality of Watanabe's own compositions.
A flurry of clapping later, the rest of the band joined the piano and guitar for a happy song that had the audience participating with the ethnic rhythm: clap-clap-pause-clap-clap-clap. Apparently everyone knew this song ("Havana" by pianist Koko Tanikawa) except for me. The pipa graced this last song with a animated riff, showing off her skills and getting the crowd even more jazzed. No pun intended, but this crowd definitely personified the word "jazzed." Featuring Watanabe's obvious skills, a colorful song selection, and the rare presence of a pipa on a jazz & blues stage, Castle in the Air was a pleasant surprise.