Masa Ishikawa: Dialogue

Don Phipps By

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The happy set of ten originals Masa Ishikawa composed for his album Dialogue suggests a budding talent. A visiting professor of jazz at the University of Iowa, Ishikawa, along with his bandmates, demonstrates a precise and light touch, where bluesy readings have just the right sense of playfulness.

Born in Fukushima, Japan, Ishikawa teams up on this session with vibraphonist Christopher Varga, who has played with such notables as Terrence Blanchard and the late Jay McShann, bassist Eric Hitt and drummer Justin Jones. Together the quartet creates a charming blend of laid back and romantically-infused offerings.

Varga dominates the majority of the numbers, with a swaggering vibraphone technique which soars at times. However, he eschews flashy and intense phrases, instead choosing to harmonize his solos around the centers of the chords while exhibiting a subtle derring-do. Often his solos are bright and sunny ("Blues for Eric") and glide along, much like a convertible on a cruise down the sea-lined Pacific Coast Highway.

Ishikawa plays both acoustic and electric piano. For the most part, his effort is reserved and tasteful. The left hand suggests Herbie Hancock, with modal blues dominating the chords, while the right hand is left to create cheerful runs or phrases. For example, on "Romance" he stretches out on a tropical flavored motif that implies the beauty of a late afternoon sun's reflection on a calm ocean.

Hitt sprinkles in solos; when on acoustic bass, his woody sound is reminiscent of the late Charlie Haden. He also exhibits a wonderful feel for electric bass in a jazz setting. Listen to his work on "Night Parade," where he never fails to pick the right note. Perhaps his best performance on the album is on "Impermanence," where his deep sound resonates with warmth. For the most part, his counterpart on drums, Jones, stays in the background. His brushwork is subtle, and his use of the cymbals is mostly for effect. He does open up a bit on "Prism," where he delivers some nice licks on the tom tom in his concluding solos.

Loaded with grace and charm, Ishikawa's Dialogue is never rushed or hurried. Instead the music is paced to give the bouncy boppish motifs and romantic impulses plenty of room.

Track Listing

Horizon; Tuk Tuk; Blues for Eric; Romance; Night Parade; Oni Mai (The Dance Of Ogres); Hikari (The Light); Clover; Impermanence; Prism.


Masa Ishikawa: piano, keyboard, composer; Christopher Varga: vibraphone; Eric Hitt: acoustic bass, electric bass; Justin G Jones: drums.

Album information

Title: Dialogue | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Self Produced



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