Foundry 616, November 6
One of the things that jazz does better than most music – and music does better than most arts – is to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable. Take Eri Yamamoto’s piano playing. Without hearing her you would not credit that her improbable combination of elegance and feistiness could be intertwined into an aesthetic and emotional whole. One that has no name.
The New York-based Japanese artist is headlining the second incarnation of the Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival, leading her long-term trio with bassist David Ambrosio and drummer Ikue Takeuchi. They almost exclusively played Yamamoto’s compositions, often infusing then with an intriguing rhythmic ambiguity, as on the opening Bumpy Trail.
Yamamoto quoted a delicate Japanese folk song as a preamble to Firefly, a lyrical piece that grew in intensity until soul-like motifs reeled and staggered from the keyboard against the turbulent rhythm section.
As good as the band was when the music was energised, it was even better when painting sparse, telling lines and sudden splashes of colour on a silent canvas. This happened on the other-worldly denouement to Dark Blue Sky, which had begun with a solo bass introduction of slurring glissandi and non-threatening growls interspersed with snatches of simple melody. It recurred on Memory Dance, among Yamamoto’s finest compositions with its minimal statement of a groove and ephemeral sense of beauty. Another example was A Few Words, where Takeuchi’s brushes cross-hatched shadows and created subtle emphases.
Ambrosio was superb throughout, with a freewheeling approach that could imply a groove when the music at its gentlest or freest, and that could build an intoxicating looseness into any grooves that did emerge. His solos were highlights, although sometimes compromised by overly strident accompaniment from Takeuchi.
If Yamamoto could thrill and beguile she could also meander on occasion. But then her gorgeous touch and dazzling array of ideas were soon deployed to restore focus and cohesion.