Sketches, the U.S. debut recording by Japanese-born, New York-based pianist/composer Junichiro Mataga, encompasses nearly an hour of genial contemporary jazz ably performed by Mataga, bassist Yoshiki Yamada and drummer Yosuke Nagayama. Even though he was quite busy as a leader and sideman in Tokyo, Mataga decided in 2019 to move to New York City to study in the jazz program at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College. Since graduating, Mataga has worked as a freelance musician in the New York city area.
Besides leading the trio, Mataga wrote eight of the album's ten numbers (the exceptions are Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You" and Richard Smallwood's "Total Praise") and arranged everything. He traverses the keyboard well, certainly on the same level, technically and creatively, as most other pianists striving to make a name for themselves in a persistently overcrowded field. On the other hand, there is nothing in Mataga's storehouse that would serve to separate him from the herd. He is simply quite good at what he does.
The trio slides gently into the water on Mataga's gossamer "Midnight Shore" before accelerating the tempo and raising the heat on "C.C.T." The lyrical waltz "Cave" precedes "I Mean You" (played as a ballad without any of Monk's eccentric flourishes), Mataga's loping "Little Cheers" and fast-paced "Scramble Crossing." After another placid interlude ("Light and the Darkness"), Mataga displays his impressive chops (while Yamada and Nagayama follow suit) on the buoyant "Time to Work," one of the album's unequivocal high spots, and propulsive "Loop" before wrapping things up with the earnest and reverential "Total Praise" (which ends in mid- note).
Not a classic piano trio date, but nevertheless a very good one. Mataga plays well, writes well, and the trio works admirably as a unit. In sum, these Sketches present a handsome and pleasing picture that is easy on the eyes and ears.
Midnight Shore; C.C.T,; Cave; I Mean You; Little Cheers; Scramble Crossing; Light and the
Darkness; Time to Work; Loop; Total Praise.