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Reminiscence

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Album Review

Reminiscence is pianist Chihiro Yamanaka's second major-label U.S. release, following 2011's acclaimed Forever Begins. Yamanaka plays with two different trios on this date; one features her performing unit of bassist Yoshi Waki and drummer John Davis, while the other includes bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie. Yamanaka plays acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, and organ in an ambitious program that highlights jazz, pop, Latin, and Brazilian covers, and includes a lone original, the opener "Rain, Rain and Rain." Reminiscence stands in sharp contrast to Forever Begins, which was heavy on fiery bop and post-bop. By comparing their respective track lists, one might be tempted to think that this set is laid-back by comparison. In this case, appearances are deceiving. Check her reading of the Burt Bacharach nugget "(They Long to Be) Close to You," where she not only deconstructs the harmony but rebuilds it with an expansive new architecture and a syncopated Latin rhythmic pulse. While her reading of Horace Silver's funky Latin groover "Soul Searchin'" is relatively straight-ahead, her reliance on minor modes and a further nod to Bacharach in her chord fills extrapolate its essence while keeping the funky blues feel intact. Her version of Leon Russell's "This Masquerade" is not only elegant but wonderfully eloquent, with subtle chord voicings and shimmering shapes. Her solo turns the tune inside out without giving up its graceful, sensual center. Another surprise here is her nearly straight read of Marcos Valle's "Ele e Ela," full of nearly voice-like phrasing and a beautiful breezy spaciousness. Her organ on Bob Berg's "Friday Night at the Cadillac Club" reveals the composer's debt to Silver, and her organ playing is more John Patton than Jack McDuff, but still swings like mad. "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" alternates between nearly classical counterpoint and pointillism and funky Rhodes work, and near its end gets into some mind-bending production tricks. Ultimately, Reminiscence proves to American audiences (outside of New York, where she has been based for some time) what Japanese audiences have known for a long time: that Yamanaka is a fierce talent with robust chops, plenty of soul, and a seemingly endless imagination for the musical possibilities of the piano trio.

Reminiscence (feat. Bernard Purdie, Larry Grenadier), Chihiro Yamanaka
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