Yoko Miwa Makes an Eclectically Lyrical Blue Note Debut
In her Blue Note debut yesterday, Yoko Miwa showed off a comfortable but hard-charging command of several jazz vernaculars. She made elegant ragtime out of Monk, worked a playful carnaval pulse back and forth on one number, and managed to make a jauntily entertaining trip to New Orleans out of what was essentially a one-chord vamp. But the vernacular that she excelled the most with was her own. That style favors lots of big block chords stretched mostly across the piano’s midrange, which she builds expansively but purposefully to big, glittering, anthemic crescendos. Think of a more carefree Brad Mehldau (that shouldn’t be hard!) and you’re on the right track.
When she wasn’t doing that, the Boston-based pianist pulled plenty of other tricks out of the bag: pensively spacious minor-key blues, a scampering righthand against a stern left, tension and release around a central tone, intricately conversational interplay with the guys in her fantastic trio (Will Slater on bass and Scott Goulding on drums), and the occasional unrestrained glissando to take a phrase or a chorus all the way over the top. She’s fun to watch and just as tuneful.
She opened with a confident, spaciously swinging take of A Beautiful Friendship, Slater’s solo matching her steady, methodical upward trajectory. Pathways, an original, was one of the high points of her first set, rising from an anthemically circular solo piano groove to an animated samba beat; Miwa had just as much fun sending the rhythm section away and swinging by herself as she did engaging in a tightly spiraling, interlocking web of melody with Slater’s edgy upper-register lines. Goulding worked terse, subtly ornamented shuffles for most of the set, concluding Miwa’s cinematic, darkly majestic, enigmatically blues-infused 2013 indie film theme Sunshine Before the Rain with a deliciously torrential cymbal cadenza. Miwa made similarly moody blues out of Patsy Cline’s So Wrong and wound up the set on a high note with another original, In My Dreams, all three musicians choosing their spots, Miwa using it as a launching pad for some unexpectedly rapidfire righthand runs down out of the tinkliest high registers.
And the day got off to a good start before the concert with a guy who’d managed to wheel a baby grand into Washington Square Park, where he furiously rubbed his hands together between numbers in order to keep the circulation going on such an unexpectedly chilly morning. That he was able to turn in an absolutely exquisite, thoughtfully dynamic take of Rachmaninoff”s G sharp minor prelude under those conditions portends good things for the guy’s career, whoever he is.