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Eri Yamamoto: Cobalt Blue

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

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When the Bad Plus covered Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" a few years back, it sounded (a little) like a long-lost track from John Coltrane's rhythm section; thus did the Love Supreme virus erupt in the least likely of contexts.

Pianist Eri Yamamoto's Cobalt Blue, a trio performance with bassist David Ambrosio and drummer Ikuo Takeuchi, has more than a touch of the virus, too. The trio sounds a little like the Bad Plus in that respect, though it's a lot less self-consciously hip, and a little like the Coltrane rhythm section that included McCoy Tyner.

The virus is recognizable in part through the compositions. "Takeda No Komoriuta" (based on a Japanese folk song), "Irving Place" and the second half of the title track all feature that kind of probing ascending or descending sequence of chords that build tension by never seeming to resolve. That tension in turn suggests forward movement and a quest, a symptom these songs share with Tyner-era Trane (I'm thinking of "Lonnie's Lament" from Afro-Blue Impressions) and indeed, "Teen Spirit.

Without exception, Yamamoto's compositions are emotionally arresting and appealingly original; this is true even of the relatively slight "Hot Coffee" and "A Little Nap," which are vehicles for her sidemen. (The covers are not quite as successful. "They Can't Take That Away From Me" sounds a little jittery; Cole Porter's "I Love You" sounds like it was mislabelled, but maybe I'm just not listening correctly.)

And partly the virus can be detected in the playing. Two telltale signs are a certain baroque quality and a dash of drama. (These references to the Bad Plus and Tyner, of course, are only meant to be indicative: Yamamoto draws upon a host of other influences in what is already a highly developed style.)

No, you can't stamp out the Love Supreme virus. But then again, who would want to? It's like Diana Ross said: if there's a cure for this, I don't want it. Indeed, there are those who say it's not a virus at all—it's not a parasite, but rather something that's encoded in the form. Every so often that coding expresses itself, to our great benefit.

This record, an invigorating exposition of that powerful jazz gene, is based on an earnest, low to mid-register appropriation of the blues combined with a strong dose of searching spirituality. Despite the maturity of her playing, Yamamoto is still young. She has already released three trio albums on Jane Street Records; Cobalt Blue is her first release on Thirsty Ear's Blue Series, whose A&R man is her friend Matthew Shipp. It promises warmly merited increased exposure.

Track Listing: Melodica Chops; Takeda No Komoriuta; Cobalt Blue; Hot Coffee; I Love You; Irving Place; A Little Nap; They Can't Take That Away From Me; The Quiet of the Night.

Personnel: Eri Yamamoto: piano; David Ambrosio: bass; Ikuo Takeuchi: drums.

Title: Cobalt Blue | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Thirsty Ear Recordings


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