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Michika Fukumori: Piano Images

Dan Bilawsky By

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Japanese-born, New York-based pianist Michika Fukumori's first two albums—Infinite Thoughts (Key Click Records, 2004) and Quality Time (Summit Records, 2016)—found her comfortably ensconced in piano trio settings. That most time-honored of formats served her well on both, introducing and showcasing a player with a precision touch, sure sense of swing, and imaginative leanings. For this third date, Fukumori goes it alone. She explores the art of solo piano, using her own original music and classics from the likes of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Cole Porter, and Richard Rodgers as the lenses through which she views the 88 keys in front of her.

Piano Images opens on two standalone works—"Colors Of Blues," Fukumori's personalized distillation of the titular form and feeling, and "Into The New World," a genial swinger with a casual carriage. Each serves as a story unto itself, but as a pair these pieces help to brand her as a solo pianist with solid technical resources, patient painting skills, and a fanciful if somewhat staid outlook. What immediately follows—"The Seasons," a four-part suite calling to and drawing from Fukumori's youth in her hometown of Iga, Japan—confirms what Fukumori reveals in those first glimpses. In a mere sixteen minutes she takes us on a yearlong journey filled with myriad emotions: "The Answer Is...(Winter)" blends wistful thoughts with sanguine signs, "The Story I Want To Tell You (Spring)" carries blooming aspirations in its lightly bounding steps, "The Days We Were Smiling (Summer)" takes a simple and direct route to a nostalgic nook, and "Tomorrow is Full Of Promises (Fall)" plays true to its name.

Slowly unwrapping Rodgers' "Where Or When" at the album's midpoint, Fukumori carries us from her own past to a more universal stop along life's highway(s). Then she sets us firmly in the present with an alluring "Palco" (A Little Dancer)," a stroll through Jobim's "Chovendo Na Roseira," and a heartfelt "My Muse," her dedication to mentor Steve Kuhn. That last number almost seems to carry a summoning spirit in its tides, as Kuhn, Fukumori's longtime teacher and producer, then appears as a guest for a rippling and positively radiant four-handed take on his "Oceans In The Sky." What remains—a sad-eyed "Luiza" and a concise "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye"—is simply a return to form. While Fukumori's songcraft and execution is a tad reserved at times, there's no doubting her skills and the depth of emotion presented in her playing . As Piano Images points out, this is a musician worth noting and knowing.

Track Listing: Colors Of The Blues; Into The New World; The Seasons: The Answer Is... (Winter); The Story I Want To Tell You (Spring); The Days We We Were Smiling (Summer); Tomorrow Is Full Of Promises (Fall); Where Or When; Palco (A Little Dancer); Chovendo Na Roseira; My Muse; Ocean's In The Sky; Luiza; Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye.

Personnel: Michika Fukumori: piano; Steve Kuhn: piano (11).

Title: Piano Images | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Summit Records

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