Japanese Female Pianists: Mamiko Watanabe & Miki Hayama


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Mamiko Watanabe

Miki Hayama
Prelude to a Kiss

Mamiko Watanabe and Miki Hayama are mainstays of the New York music scene. Their latest releases confirm their considerable talents and add to the collective discography of the impressive Asian women pianists and composers who have come into prominence lately, like Helen Sung, Eri Yamamoto and Ayako Shirasaki.

Watanabe thoroughly satisfies her musical soul with a diverse two-disc set, Origin/Jewel. On Origin she and her excellent band — Ruben Austin (electric bass), Maurice Brown (trumpet), Roland Guerrero (percussion on tracks 3, 5 and 6), Karel Ruzicka, Jr. (saxophone) and Harvey Wirht (drums) — serve up tunes ranging from horn-driven funk ("Keep Moving Forward ) to Vince Guaraldi-type cool ("Smile ) to hot Latin rhythm ("A Little Piece for Dance ). Jewel comprises the straight-ahead side of the ledger, with Watanabe forming a rhythm section with bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Francisco Mela. She puts a light-hearted touch on the standards "Here's That Rainy Day , "Beautiful Love and "Even If . Watanabe plays the title track with the kind of drama that Keith Jarrett often brings to a song. Both discs share a couple of tunes, "The Game Is Ready and "Origin . These aren't alternate takes in the usual sense, but different stylistic versions that expand on and enhance each song, allowing Watanabe to show off her inventiveness and skill in effortlessly and successfully tailoring each song to the theme of each volume. Watanabe's piano playing and leadership on both discs is deft, challenging and always solid.

Prelude to a Kiss features Miki Hayama in a trio with bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Eric McPherson and like Watanabe she is a master of various styles. Hayama, too, can play with an introspection and color straight from the ECM stylebook (the haunting "Canvas in Blue , with Kitagawa's dolorous arco); or with dazzling speed and dexterity ("Frog Dance or "Into the Silence ). Hayama swings as smooth as silk on "At the Key Point and ends the CD with a tender solo version of the title cut. In distinct and compelling ways, Watanabe and Hayama show that what defines a classic style, or a standard, is at once both static and changing.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: On Origin: Keep Moving On; Bouncing Night; A Little Piece for Dance; Smile; The Game is Ready; Origin. On Jewel: A Veil of Secrecy; Here's That Rainy Day; Even If The Game is Ready (alt. take); Beautiful Love; Labyrinth; Jewel; Origin (alt. take).

Personnel: On Origin: Mamiko Watanabe: piano; Ruben Austin: electric bass; Maurice Brown: trumpet; Roland Guerrero: percussion (tracks 3, 5, 6); Karel Ruzicka, Jr.: saxophone; Harvey Wirht: drums. On Jewel: Mamiko Watanabe: piano; Massimo Biolcati: acoustic bass; Francisco Mela: drums; Roland Guerrero: percussion (track 8).

Prelude to a Kiss

Tracks: Beatrice; At the Key Point; I Love You; Canvas in Blue; Into the Silence; Skylark; Frog Dance; Taichi's Playground; Whose Shoes; Prelude to a Kiss.

Personnel: Miki Hayama: piano; Kiyoshi Kitagawa: bass; Eric McPherson: drums.


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