With the release of One After Another, add Mamiko Watanabe to the list of talented jazz pianists that have come out of Japan in recent years. Watanabe composed all of the songs on this impressive debut and they show a strong, fully developed hard bop sensibility. Watanabe's composing MO is to start off a song with a strong theme or head, as a sort of attention-grabbing mechanism, then to pull it back to where it becomes an exploratory vehicle for the soloists ("The Deep Sea exemplifies this as much as any song on the disc). The tunes are challenging and well-crafted and while Watanabe is a fine pianist, her composing is actually her most compelling aspect.
The Latin-flavored "Shadow begins with an impressive fusillade of percussion by Francisco Mela, who plays over a repeated figure and features highlights and spices from saxophonist Walter Smith. "Savanna opens in a space where pianist McCoy Tyner seemed apt to go, Smith playing deftly across the melody and clever hard bop arrangement. The band performs well on the Monk-inspired "Take It Easy, which has melodic and thematic whisps of Monk, but not, ironically enough, in Watanabe's playing.
"Say Something is another hard bop foray, simple in construction yet eloquent. "Labyrinth, too, has an off-center construction, with the chord progression leading to unexpected corners. "Jour de Pluie a Paris is an ambitious, exploratory waltz ballad on which Massimo Biolcati contributes some especially nice pizzicato and Watanabe explores every possibility the tune has to offer.
Shadow; Savanna; Beat Away; Take It Easy; Say Something; Labyrinth; Jour de Pluie a Paris; The Deep Sea; Paradise.
Mamiko Watanabe: piano; Walter Smith: saxophone; Massimo Biolcati: acoustic bass; Francisco Mela: drums.
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