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Jazz - Released February 22, 2019 | Shanachie

Hi-Res Booklet
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Jazz - Released August 5, 2016 | Shanachie

Hi-Res Booklet
Released in 2013, Keiko Matsui's funky, groove-centric Soul Quest featured Narada Michael Walden, Marcus Miller, Chuck Loeb, and Kirk Whalum, among others. It placed high on the jazz charts and set her upon a world tour that resulted in 2015's Live in Tokyo. Arriving in 2016, Journey to the Heart marks her 27th album as a leader and her 30th anniversary as a recording artist. It's a much more organic set that places her acoustic piano at the fore. Her collaborators include bassist Carlitos Del Puerto, drummer Jimmy Branley, guitarist Ramon Stagnero, percussionist Luis Quintero, and Grégoire Maret on harmonica. Four of these ten tracks also include strings. Opener "Moving On" is the obvious single with its Afro-Cuban intro that gives way to a punchy, soulful hook. With its songlike melody, the guitarist twins her lines and answers her tags and bridge, building it all to an anthemic crescendo. If the track has a flaw, it's that it's not long enough. "Carnival" adds second guitarist J.P. Mourão. The gorgeous augmented piano chords, hand percussion, and samba vamp seamlessly meld Brazilian pop and jazz. The shimmering guitars bounce off one another in bright interplay before Matsui trades fours with Mourão. "Casablanca" is introduced by Maret (he also accompanies Matsui through the melody). The tune weaves North African modalism, flamenco, Latin jazz, and French café music in a swirl of fingerpicked guitars, a trap kit, and hand percussion. While the title track features a string intro worthy of vintage Hollywood, Matsui offers crystalline classical chord voicings before entertaining the rhythm section in a sprightly Latin waltz. A slide guitar break from Stagnero adds a hint of steamy blues to the equation. "Havana Nights" is a lovely rhumba -- nearly hummable! -- with fantastic co-action from the rhythm section, lovely arpeggios from Matsui and Stagnero, and a great conga break from Quintero. "Two Harbors" is another showcase for the interaction between Maret and the pianist. Their harmonic engagement is tender and intuitive as the rhythm section glides around them. Closer "Blue Rose" is classical crossover. It places the leader's glorious Chopin-esque pianism in a solo dialogue with chamber strings. Played by this fine band, Journey to the Heart weaves strands of many different musics into a seamless, wide-ranging whole. This date doesn't showcase Matsui as a piano technician (though there is plenty of that here) so much as a jazz composer, arranger, and bandleader capable of delivering gorgeous, imaginative tunes. ~ Thom Jurek
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Jazz - Released July 30, 2013 | Shanachie

Booklet
Soul Quest marks pianist Keiko Matsui's 25th recording anniversary. Since the very beginning, her crystalline piano and accessible yet harmonically rich compositions have been mainstays, not only on the smooth and contemporary jazz scenes, but also on the charts. She enlisted an all-star studio group to assist her on these ten tunes, nine of which she wrote or co-wrote. Most tracks were produced either by Fourplay guitarist Chuck Loeb (who contributes one tune, co-wrote several others, and plays on the set) or Narada Michael Walden (who also plays drums selectively and co-wrote the album's closer). Other contributors include Will Lee, Marcus Miller, Fernando Saunders, Kirk Whalum, David Mann, Andy Snitzer, and Brian Dunne, to name a few. The charting single "Black Lion," with its breezy acoustic guitar line from from Grecco Buratto and some tasty loops and percussion programming from Derek Nakamoto, is a clear standout, as is "A Night with Cha Cha," with Loeb, Lee, and Dunne. Matsui's piano uses the familiar Latin form as a jumping-off point for improvisation. Her composition weaves an intricate melody line for her piano and Whalum's tenor saxophone with a couple of dramatic changes in the bridge. "Antarctica: A Call to Action" walks a hazy line between contemporary jazz, classical crossover, and even rock, with stellar solos from Whalum on both tenor and soprano, a punchy gatekeeper bassline by Miller, elegant and sometimes thunderous drumming by Walden, and atmospheric guitar from Matthew Charles Heulitt. Matsui uses her piano and other keyboards to direct its many parts like a mini-suite The title track is a tango-inspired jazz ballad with Matsui interacting dreamily with Cameron Stone's cello over the first half, but Eric Baines' bassline and Nakamoto's funky synth and programming offer a tempo and color shift that Matsui builds upon, exchanging fours with all her players. Set-closer "Stingo," written by the pianist and Walden, is her tribute to Sting. Matsui's precise ostinati and arpeggios are pushed by Walden's aggressive kit work and programming, with colorful textures added by Jimi Reitzel's keyboards. There is a cinematic quality to the breezy and labyrinthine elegance of her improvising against a pronounced rhythmic attack. Soul Quest's greatest achievement lies in its diversity, and in the way Matsui applies her imagination as a composer, improviser, and arranger. It ranks with her finest work. ~ Thom Jurek
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2001 | Narada Productions, Inc.

Keiko Matsui's last album, 2000s Whisper From the Mirror, was picked up and reissued by the Narada label in 2001, and Narada is also releasing her 12th album, Deep Blue. It's an appropriate match-up for the Japanese pianist, since Narada is known primarily as a new age label, and, though her records are being released on its Narada Jazz imprint, "new age" is actually the best category to place her in. From the start of her career, Matsui has been shelved under "jazz," but that has always been more a marketing ploy than anything else, and never more so than on Deep Blue. Her compositions are melodic tunes, many of which sound like songs without lyrics, while others seem like soundtrack excerpts from a film not yet made. Matsui does solo within the tunes on occasion, but her improvisations -- if that is even what they are -- tend to explore further melodic developments rather than really take off. And the supporting instruments are just that -- percussion, string, and keyboard elements that support the composition. The music is said to be inspired by North Africa and the Mediterranean, another clue to its real intent. Jazz musicians rarely bother to make such extra-musical programming remarks, while classical, soundtrack, and new age composers do it all the time. As usual with Matsui's recordings, much of Deep Blue is attractive and engaging, and the bright pianism is consistently pleasing in its expression of flowing melodies. That it doesn't really belong in the category to which Matsui has somehow been assigned does nothing to diminish its appeal. ~ William Ruhlmann
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Jazz - Released January 25, 2011 | Shanachie

It's been four long years since pianist and composer Keiko Matsui released the spare, elegant Moyo. That is an atypical break for an artist who has recorded 22 studio albums since her debut in the late 1980s. Appearing on Shanachie for the first time, The Road was largely self-produced. Matsui appears in varying contexts here, from trios to quartets and quintets to an octet on a musically diverse set that sums up virtually every place she's been while continuing to point the way forward. Some of these players have collaborated with her for decades while still others make their initial appearances. The opening "Secret Pond" utilizes Matsui's love of new age music in a context that also employs Japanese folk melodies and classical themes; it is arranged by Heigo Yokouchi and features bassist Reggie Hamilton and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. Cameroonian bassist, composer, and vocalist Richard Bona appears on the successive tracks "Falcon's Wing," and "Nguea Wonja." The former is a breezy minor-key affair with Matsui playing a classical theme counter to Bona's lithe, nocturnal bassline and shimmering wordless vocal. The latter is an exercise in world jazz that encompasses African and Latin rhythms in a stridently syncopated context. "Bohemian Concerto" is a dead cross between tango and flamenco with Matsui's piano trio pairing with a quartet of accordion, classical guitar, violin, and cello. Kirk Whalum appears on the 21st century funky blues that is "Awakening" in a septet; he trades breaks with James Hara's guitar and Matsui. He also guests on the smooth-gooving "Affirmation," in which his soulful saxophone solo is the centerpiece. The set closes with the title track. Jackiem Joyner plays saxophone in the slowly developing tune which weds classical and new age. Derek Nakamoto's arrangement places Joyner's bluesy saxophone in direct juxtaposition to Kay Ta Matsuno's guitar and dulcimer, but the track is captured by a knotty, startling piano solo by Matsui that ends in a percussive crescendo. The Road is yet another fascinating chapter in the career of a prolific artist whose approach to contemporary music knows no bounds. ~ Thom Jurek
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1997 | GRP Records

Collection is a rather unusual CD sampler in that the dozen selections by keyboardist Keiko Matsui are drawn from just two releases: Northern Lights and No Borders. As it turned out, those were Matsui's only MCA sets, and they led to her becoming a major star in the pop/jazz world. Music-wise, the tunes on this CD are generally quite lightweight. Matsui's dense keyboards make the better selections seem quite haunting, but much of the playing does not rise above the level of mood music, as if the oversized rhythm section were waiting for the main soloist to show up. The musicianship is excellent on this CD, and the electronics have not dated too much, but overall, this can just be classified as superior background music. ~ Scott Yanow
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1990 | Geffen* Records

One of the spiritual minded, jazz meets mystical keyboardist's best early efforts, helping her bridge from pure Eastern tinged new age music into gently funky smooth jazz. With styles ranging from R&B (the Eric Marienthal punched "Light in the Rain") and fusion, to Medieval Folk music ("In the Mist," "Three Silhouettes"), and her trademark new age ("The Wind and the Wolf"), there are certainly no borders on this collection. Matsui's sense of melody keeps on growing, her improvisational soloing is spectacular (especially on "Kappa"), yet doesn't alienate her powerful core of backing musicians, including guitarist Robben Ford and violinist Subramanium. Husband Kazu Matsui's production is once again impeccable, as is his playful and wistful shakuhachi flute playing. Phil Ayling's recorder and oboe on the medieval tunes are also highlights. Keiko's beautiful writing however, is what holds the marvelous collection together. ~ Jonathan Widran
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2003 | Shout Factory

Since she emerged in the late '80s, many of the acclaimed Japanese composer/keyboardist's most popular contemporary jazz hits featured either a very prominent sax melody or a great deal of exotic percussion and Eastern-flavored instrumentation. Since signing with Narada Jazz in 2000, Matsui's work has drawn more from her classical piano background, featuring intricate percussion but none of the pop-soul sax textures that defined her early work. This beautiful recording, licensed by Shout! Factory from a previous Japanese release, should fascinate longtime fans who wondered what her most compelling work would sound like as new age solo piano works. A few tracks, most notably "Whisper From the Mirror" and "Between the Moons," feature some electronic percussion accompaniment, but in general, the tracks are all about her lovely melodies, dramatic chordings, wistful melodies, and the intimacy of the ivories. As on all Matsui projects, there's a perfect balance of elegant romance ("Beyond the Light," "Forever, Forever") and jazzy drama. It's a whole new way to experience an artist whose melodies sound timeless regardless of their presentation. The Piano is one of six hard-to-find Matsui recordings being repackaged and re-released (with the original Japanese bonus tracks) on Shout! Factory. ~ Jonathan Widran
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1989 | Geffen* Records

Matsui's major label debut combines everything from chamber like organ effects ("The Ruins of Sonora") to punchy sax driven pop ("Mountain Shakedown") to orchestral film score sweeps ("The Gate") in expanding her palette further beyond Eastern sounds. Poetic, image laden pieces dominate, but her chops as a keyboardist are tested on more exotic solos. It's another all star affair, with Eric Marienthal, Brandon Fields, Robben Ford, Abe Laboriel, Paul Jackson, Jr. and Grant Geissman pushing Matsui into the big leagues of pop jazz. There's even a slight Latin excursion. The vocals this time are handled by Howard Smith and Phyllis St. James. ~ Jonathan Widran
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2003 | Shout Factory

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2003 | Narada

The spiritual and charitable-minded Japanese keyboardist, who blends ethereal new age textures with a rich soul-jazz sensibility better than anyone, is in top form on her 14th studio release. Like its recent predecessors on Narada Jazz, the CD features songs that are all about the landscape between subtlety and drama, elegant piano melodies and improvisations, dramatic flute and sax harmonies, and rich ambiences dense with percussion. Tying in perfectly with her current humanitarian work with United Nations World Food Program (WFP) efforts in Africa (most of her recent albums have tied into some charitable or health cause), the collection features subtle worldbeat threads throughout. "Flashback" features a gentle, classical-flavored piano melody over a gently throbbing bassline, before Matsui does some dramatic improvisations over dense, exotic percussion textures. "Facing Up" is quintessential graceful Matsui up until the feisty, machine-generated wall of polyrhythmic drums (which she simply dances over). "Sense of a Journey" is a little more smooth jazz-centered in spots, but later goes on a film score-like orchestral tangent. The intro to "Reflections" is low-key but decidedly African jungle in vibe, while the sweeping "Temple of Life" features hints of sitar, vocal choirs, and chanting beyond the orchestral flair. The closing title track is probably the most restrained piece production-wise, but also one of the most memorable melodically; its royalty proceeds will benefit the WFP, her latest charity. Matsui is always so consistent that it's hard to decide if one album ever tops another, but like most albums in her catalog, Wildflower is irresistible in its execution of incredible dynamics throughout. ~ Jonathan Widran
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2002 | Narada Productions, Inc.

For those who like a little mysticism and classical influence in their smooth jazz, Japanese-born composer and keyboardist Keiko Matsui has long been the ticket. She was Billboard's number one Independent Contemporary Jazz Artist in 1997 and is the top New Adult Contemporary female instrumentalist of her time. In the early days (she's up to 14 albums now), Matsui did it with a mix of thunderous film score-like sweeps, elegant and jazzy piano command, and a guest sax solo here and there to score some radio hits. On The Ring, she continues her recent trend of all those same elements and gorgeous melodies without concern for pop airplay considerations. Her producer/husband Kazu Matsui provides some trip-hoppy rhythmic foundations behind the gently hypnotic opening track ("Steps of Maya," inspired by Mayan culture and also a tribute to the Matsuis' daughter Maya), but the tune is mostly meditational until it breaks for a lush, experimental solo in the middle. The piano motif of "Venus of the Sea" works well as a catchy hook, and the tune falls somewhere between the esoteric and pure pop, with tighter, gentle funk rhythms, nature sounds, and a jazzy ambience. Alberto de Almar's graceful flamenco guitar helps introduce and provide harmony for the pure atmospheres of "Moon Circle," while "Prism" gets back in the groove for one of the disc's most exotic trips -- including a rising synth brass section and multiple synth sounds and dramatic use of the keyboard's lower scales. The title track gets away from the clever blends of melody, rhythm, and special effects for a more straightforward, film score-like presentation. "White Owl" takes the same idea to its dramatic orchestral limit. Matsui's goal here was to create music for healing amidst a chaotic world, but she does more than soothe the soul as she continues to follow her muse to unexpected places. ~ Jonathan Widran
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2003 | Shout Factory

Taking a stroll through Keiko Matsui's musical hypnotherapy session Dream Walk is like entering a funhouse where all previous definitions of contemporary jazz are strikingly distorted, and invention walks on the wild side of East meets West. Crisp melodies have always been at the heart of the keyboardist's best work, only here they come at you as part of the mood, rather than the central theme. Only a handful of the keyboardist's tunes follow conventional linear melodic patterns throughout, and even these are so beautifully enhanced by sweeping orchestral and percussive invention that atmosphere and throbbing, raw twists ultimately win out over predictability. Equal credit for the newly aggressive approach goes to husband/producer Kazu Matsui, whose sonic wizardry surrounds Keiko's silky jazz and new age passageways with curious echoing flavors, enticing soundscapes where almost anything goes, and loose-fitting urban cool. Other out-there touches include Molly Pasutti's sweeping wordless vocals, bass samples by Marcus Miller and John Patitucci chosen over live bass, and Kazu's own shakuhachi. More typical excitement is provided by Paul Taylor's always warm soprano and alto musings. ~ Jonathan Widran
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New Age - Released January 1, 2005 | Narada

Although her press materials since 2000 have trumpeted her two wins as "Best Female Artist" at the National Smooth Jazz Awards, the brilliant Japanese-born keyboardist and composer is secure enough in her genius, spirituality, and vast popularity (1.2 million units sold to date) that she never limits herself to one genre. Her recent Narada albums have been a happily unpredictable mixed bag, with 2002's The Ring exploring her new age and classical influences and 2004's Wildflower going in a worldbeat direction, no doubt in connection with her charitable efforts on behalf of the U.N.'s World Food Program in Africa. Matsui fanatics will no doubt be jumping all over maps of her homeland looking for a place called "Akendora," but it's a place of her own creation, where she runs to spend contemplative moments and find peace. Wherever it is, fans of her jazzier side are going to love this collection. It includes trademark moments of lush piano amidst big, booming percussive and orchestral drama ("Akendora's Clock"), but focuses more on spirited, even swinging jazz, both free-form (as on the busy, trumpet-laced, scratch-heavy, urban-flavored jam "Overture for the City") and ultra-smooth (the laid-back, catchy, and hooky midtempo ballad "Gentle Sands"; the fun and playful "Canvas"). Unlike most releases categorized as smooth jazz, this is infused throughout with Matsui's unexpected creative textures. "Blue Butterfly" starts out like a typical new age number before evolving into a spacy, ambient jazz exercise complete with wild piano runs and distant horn calls. Husband and producer Kazu Matsui's unique, bass-bubbling production textures on "Crystal Shadow" turn its mainstream melody into a hypnotic, thought-provoking piece. And her early genre classic "Mountain Shakedown" is given a post-millennial spruce-up, complete with trip-hop production textures, a sped-up bassline, and some extra piano improvisation. One could literally go on for days trying to verbally capture the hundreds of surprises that fill a 44-minute Matsui project. She's hard to categorize but always an innovative delight to listen to. ~ Jonathan Widran
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2003 | Shout Factory

This auspicious introduction to the many aspects of the composer's skills finds her surrounded by a slew of L.A.'s top players, some of whom had yet to begin their own solo careers at this point: Grant Geissman, Brandon Fields, Robben Ford, Nathan East, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Jimmy Johnson. Matsui balances a mystic Eastern edge with a lighthearted new agey pop appeal. "Ancient Wind" and the Geissman co-composition "Mediterranean Sand" are the best cuts, building from pastoral ideas into an explosive ensemble hook. Matsui also showed her penchant for soulful vocal pieces, using Abu Khalil and Marva King to varying effectiveness. The emotional vocal title cut was inspired by Challenger astronaut Ron McNair. ~ Jonathan Widran
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2003 | Shout Factory

This pop-jazz recording by Japanese pianist/keyboardist Keiko Matsui is actually better than many comparable contemporary jazz recordings. The melodies are catchy and charming but rather low-key, most of the pieces are quite atmospheric ("1942, From Russia" sounds like a piece from a Hollywood epic), and several unusual moods (for pop-jazz, that is) are explored. Matsui's piano playing is interesting and adds further substance to the music. The other musicians include various session players (Michael Landau, Lenny Castro, Eric Marienthal) and a few guests like Keiko's husband, shakuhachi player Kazu Matsui (who also produced), and singer Philip Bailey (who appears on one of the two vocal tracks). ~ Christian Genzel
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Jazz - Released October 2, 2015 | Shanachie

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2003 | Shout Factory

If we're talking Keiko Matsui, we can expect another impressionistic album cover which belies the often explosive music on the disc. Matsui draws a little more from her heritage this time but textures it with soulful excursions ("Walking on the Bridge"). She once again gives radio a seductive earful while continuing her heightened exploration into more challenging orchestral sounds and several impressive, wildly percussive Latin journeys (e.g. "Sail South"). Making perfect use of Lenny Castro's spicy percussion and Clay Jenkins' punchy trumpet flavors, Matsui lets loose. The gospel vocal by Arnold McCuller is a strong one. Other newcomers to the fold are guitarist Jorge Strunz, Jon Clark (recorder) and Sam Riney on sax. ~ Jonathan Widran
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Jazz - Released January 24, 2019 | Shanachie

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Pop - Released January 1, 2008 | Shout Factory