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Cobalt Blue

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Album Review

Eri Yamamoto is a young Japanese pianist who possesses all the tools necessary for greatness: a keen sense of time, a swinging voice, technical chops that anybody would admire, and a singer's lyric sensibility as a soloist. Cobalt Blue is her debut for Thirsty Ear in the Blue Series — curated by her friend, vanguard jazz pianist Matthew Shipp — and her fourth outing overall. Along with bassist David Ambrosio and drummer Ikuo Takeuchi, she weaves a tapestry that reveals her influences, pianist McCoy Tyner, in particular, and Horace Tapscott and Bill Evans to a lesser extent. A lot of Yamamoto's own compositions are built upon chord structures that never resolve themselves despite their ascendant and descendant patterns: "Melodica Chops," which opens the album, and the title track are cases in point. They are reaching, creating and relaxing tension without ever opening onto new territory. That's not really even a criticism, just a way of hearing; Tyner has done much of the same thing, especially when he was with the John Coltrane's Quartet. "Hot Coffee" is a showcase for Ambrosio, who clearly drives the track, but it is Yamamoto's percussive voicings and her knotty arpeggios that which give the tune something besides kinetic drive. Her lyric sensibility is as restrained and economical as a painter's tentative, precise brush strokes; they are everywhere evident in "Irving Place" and the closer "The Quiet of the Night." The two cover tunes here feel more like material to fill out an album rather than typically inspiring it. Whether it's Cole Porter's "I Love You" that feels like it drags a bit, or "They Can't Take That Away from Me," which is a bit over-florid perhaps, but then her way of hearing what's in these pieces just may be very different from the norm. In all this there is a brave little trio record from an artist who is surely in touch with her own strengths and understands implicitly (and employs it often) the only real tension that matters, that between melodic improvisation and harmonic construction. Highly recommended.


Born: Osaka, Japan

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '00s

Born in Osaka, Japan, Eri Yamamoto began playing classical piano at age three, and within five years was composing her own pieces. Throughout her education she continued to study piano, as well as viola, voice, and composition, but when she came to the U.S. for the first time in 1995 and by chance saw jazz pianist Tommy Flanagan play, she knew she had found the kind of music she truly wanted to pursue. Later that year she enrolled in the New School's Jazz and Contemporary Music program, although...
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Cobalt Blue, Eri Yamamoto
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