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Yoko Miwa Trio: Songs Of Joy

Dan McClenaghan By

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Yoko Miwa Trio: Songs Of Joy
A steady gig must be a Godsend to any jazz musician. The chance to work on stage and on schedule can be the cornerstone to artistic development and a melding of the ensemble mind. For pianist Yoko Miwa, that steady job was, for a decade and a half, at Les Zygomates Wine Bar and Bistro in Boston. Then the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 hit, and those doors closed, limiting Miwa's ability to publicly shape and present her music.

But the studio remains the same, and idle time prompted Miwa to ..."write something every day. I just tried to sit down at the piano and play whatever I felt..." The result of those efforts in a musically frustrating and personally sad time—her father passed in 2020 after a battle with Alheimer's Disease—is a show of inner strength and optimism showcased in her Songs Of Joy.

Miwa's star rose at a steep angle after breakout album, Fadeless Flower (Self Produced, 2004), then leveled off at highest of altitudes with Pathways (Ocean Blue Tear Music, 2017) and Keep Talkin' (Ocean Blue Tear Music, 2017). The template was to mix some of her own engaging compositions with a familiar jazz standard or two and a sprinkling of pop tunes, all laid down with an energetic elegance tinted by undercurrents of her classical background.

Miwa opens Songs of Joy with an anthemic rendition of Richie Havens' "Freedom," the song that launched the folk singer's star into the heavens after his version was documented in the movie Woodstock. Miwa approaches "Freedom" with a McCoy Tyner-like muscularity, backed by the dense rhythmic back drop from bassist Will Slater and drummer Scott Goulding. It is a powerhouse, all-things-possible sound, spiritual and temporal at the same time.

Miwa includes Thelonious Monk's "Think Of One," a sprightly sound in her hands, a deep and earthy joy of a tune, while Billy Preston's "Song Of Joy"—the tune that inspired the disc's title—is tranquil and warm, as introspective and lovely as a song can be; and Duke Jordan's "No Problem" drives hard straight ahead, rollicking and rolling.

"Largo Desolato" is one of five Miwa originals that came out of her daily writing routine. A lonely tune hooked into the mood of the the empty streets of New York during the pandemic lockdown, it is a sound that holds onto an optimism inside the desolation; while things get even deeper into that mood with her original "The Lonely Hours," for her father, and for the pandemic influenced circumstances of his passing.

Billy Preston's "Song Of Joy" is as tranquil and lovely as a song can be in the trio's hands; and Duke Pearson's "No Problem" rolls and rollicks with a straight ahead gusto.

The set's closer, the folk classic "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You," is a change of pace. Bassist Brad Barrett sits in, moving the sound a hundred and eighty degrees away from joy, with his mournful bowing painting a wash of tears brought on by the ramifications of the title's intent, while Miwa's piano notes are like teardrops breaking from that wash and falling to the floor.

Track Listing

Freedom; Largo Desolato; Song Of Joy; Small Talk; The Lonely Hours; No Problem; The Rainbirds; Think Of One; Inside A Dream; Tony's Blues; Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You.

Personnel

Yoko Miwa: piano; Will Slater: bass; Scott Goulding: drums.

Brad Barratt: acoustic bass (11).

Album information

Title: Songs Of Joy | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Ubuntu Music

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