Innovative Piano and Vibraphone Tunes From Miki Yamanaka
Today’s Halloween installment concerns vibraphonist and pianist Miki Yamanaka’s Human Dust Suite album, streaming at Bandcamp. She takes inspiration for the record’s five-part centerpiece from Agnes Denes’ famous 1969 black-and-white photograph, which shows what’s left of a corpse after it’s been cremated.
Full disclosure: the suite is on the quiet side and far more of a celebration of being alive than anything overtly macabre. Take the opening segment, Brain, a warmly bounding piano theme propelled by the circling grooves of bassist Orlando le Fleming and drummer Jochen Rueckert, saxophonist Anthony Orji providing balmy ambience overhead.
The fleeting second part, Hatsu is centered around hypnotic twin riffs from both vibes and piano over an insistent drumbeat. As she often does throughout the record, Yamanaka opens and closes the unsettled, low-key, pulsing part three, Tummy, on vibes and switches to piano in between; Orji’s terse solo matches the pensive atmosphere.
Feet Go Bad First is a similarly moody, modally-tinged number punctuated by dancing bass solos. The suite’s conclusion, Party’s Over begins even more darkly but quickly rises to a brisk swing with tight, purposeful solos from Orji and the bandleader.
The album includes six other tracks, most of them on the thoughtful side and characterized by unexpected shifts from light to dark or the other way around. The opening number, Pre School has a rapidly strolling groove, pointillistic piano from Yamanaka and calm sax from Orji. The album’s most epic tune, March, is a jazz waltz, Orji rising to bubbly heights after a sober intro from Yamanaka, who follows a similarly triumphant, lyrical tangent afterward.
First Day of Spring begins as a tender ballad but gains momentum and gravitas on the wings of Yamanaka’s incisive chords. O 2017 is a brief, strolling pastoral theme with overdubbed piano and vibes.
After the Night is the album’s strongest and darkest track, Orji lighting the way warily over Yamanaka’s circling, moody phrases; then she completely flips the script, fueling a long upward drive. She winds up the album with the genially shuffling Berkshire Blues: western Massachusetts hill country seems to suit her just fine.