Manami Morita: Colors (2009)
The cover of Color, pianist Manami Morita's debut recording as leader, is a mosaic of child-like drawings, all round shapes and primary colors. It's somehow a reflection of her music which is unselfconsciously joyous and optimistic. There are few shades and little introspection in her playing, only boldness and, like the colors of nature, harmony.
The trio interplay is tight; bassist Zak Croxall and drummer Tom Hartman have played with Morita for some time and the three have already recorded on guitarist Colin Cannon's notable debut Summary (Colin Cannon, 2009). Bob Edinger occupies the drum stool on three tracks.
The opener, "My Little Blue Sweetie," builds from a melodic, almost lullaby-like beginning to a more substantial showpiece for Morita's skills. As the rhythm gains in intensity, Morita gradually unfolds an impressive solo. When Croxall and Hartman drop out, Morita employs punchy left hand chords and ripping right hand glissandos of impressive speed. Returning to the head, she invites Croxall and Hartman in once again and the piece finishes as softly as it began.
Morita's firey playing on the up tempo "Jungle Book" reveals a love for strong dynamics and an energy, which combined with her ability to pen a good tune, draws comparison to pianist Hiromi. Her repeated riff in the middle section provides a frame within which Edinger peels off a lively solo before the song concludes in grandstanding fashion.
A relaxed vibe colors the beginning of "Sleeping Tiger," though an underlying power in Morita's chords threatens to disturb the feline's slumber. Minus drums, Croxall's gentle bass asserts a lyrical calm. Morita maintains the lyricism but increases the intensity. Her phrasing falls tantalizingly short of extended runs on a tune of melodic beauty and quiet strength.
There is nothing restrained about Richard Rogers' "My Favorite Things," which features lightening piano runs and Ahmad Jamal-type figures. A lovely neo-classical touch from Morita counters the famous melody and, again, Croxall's thoughtful bass lines provide a gentle springboard from which Morita builds her solo. Gathering pace, at times her Keith Jarrett-like singing is audible beneath her exciting improvisations.
At over nine minutes, "Interlude" is the longest composition and also the most pensive. Unaccompanied at first, Morita is soon joined by Croxall's ever measured bass lines and Edinger's brushes. Croxall steers the melody for much of the composition before Morita gently takes over the reins. The endingdelicate, whisperedis exquisite.
A hint of Latin America colors the fast paced "Goodbye at 12 am" which features blistering stick work from Hartman and equally uninhibited chops from Morita. "Goin'Home" throws the spotlight entirely on the leader whose strolling left-handed rhythm is countered by some Art Tatum-esque runs.
Colors is a fine calling card from a pianist of impressive technique. Strong melodies are carried by a vibrancy in the playing which is often exhilarating. It will be interesting to observe what other colors Morita adds to her palette in time, as this is surely not the last word from a highly talented musician.
Track Listing: My Little Blue Sweetie; Jungle Book; Sleeping Tiger; My Favorite Things; Esp; Interlude; Goodbye at 12 am; Goin' Home.
Personnel: Manami Morita: piano; Zak Croxall: bass; Bob Edinger: drums (2, 4, 6); Thomas Hartman: drums (1, 3, 5, 7).
Record Label: Manami Morita
Style: Modern Jazz