Sunday, July 21, 2019

Yoko Miwa’s New Trio Album

Courtesy of Braithwaite & Katz Communications

A little over a month ago, Ocean Blue Tear Music released the latest trio album by jazz pianist Yoko Miwa, entitled Keep Talkin’ (which is also the title of the first track, composed by Miwa). The other trio members are Will Slater on bass and Scott Goulding on drums, with Brad Barrett taking bass on the final track, another Miwa composition entitled “Sunshine Follows.” Miwa is a professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston; and there is an almost academic quality to this album, demonstrating the scope of trio improvisation through the inventiveness of all three players and featuring six of Miwa’s compositions.

In terms of pedagogy, this album is a valuable resource. However, for all of its polish, there is an overall sense of blandness. This is most evident in the performance of Charles Mingus’ “Boogie Stop Shuffle.” This is one of those Mingus pieces that only showed up in recording on the Columbia label, where it had been subjected to the slings and arrows of outrageous bowdlerization by producer Teo Macero. When Mingus was allowed to be Mingus, his performances were aggressively raw and frequently provocative. When listening to the Mingus Ah Um album, the Mingus aficionado can come close to detecting those qualities struggling to make themselves heard, only to be smoothed over by technical production values. Unfortunately, Miwa’s account of this piece has more to do with Macero than with Mingus (so much the worse for the Mingus legacy).

The one Thelonious Monk track, “In Walked Bud,” fares much better. Slater takes the lead with his bass work; and, as was the case with Frank Kimbrough’s sessions for his Monk’s Dreams complete anthology, the emphasis is on the music itself, rather than Monk’s idiosyncratic approaches to the piano keyboard. The result is an upbeat account in which all three trio members seem to be having fun exercising their respective capacities for invention. Would that Miwa’s own pieces could raise spirits to a similar height!

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