Keiko Matsui – Soul Quest (review)

Keiko Matsui – Soul Quest (Shanachie) review

Keiko Matsui is one of the most lyrical pianists in contemporary jazz; her piano lines have a very hummable quality, which elevates it above typical mood music.  Plus, there’s enough technical prowess among her fellow musicians to keep the die hard aficionados happy as well.

Her 23rd album, Soul Quest, is appropriately titled – there’s a deep, resonating soulfulness that accompanies all the tracks on the new record.  From the gentle funk of “Black Lion,” propelled by a light digital groove, to the Latin-infused “A Night in Cha Cha” (one of several tracks featuring the great Kirk Whalum on sax), this music works on several different levels.  The lead off track is a dazzler – “Dream Seeker” teams Matsui with soprano saxman Andy Snitzer, and their two instruments blend together beautifully.  Snitzer really turns loose for some tasty ad libbing at the end that you wish went on a little longer.

Then, right in the middle of the record, Matsui gets contemplative.  “Moving Mountains” is gorgeous in its stark beauty of just her and light percussion.  That sets the mood for the standout of the entire record, “Antartica – A Call to Action,” which starts out as a light ballad with a great bassline from Marcus Miller.  But, then Whalum joins in with a longing sax line that seems to be crying out for the shrinking ice caps.  The track builds with some fantastic flourishes from Whalum, and then suddenly everything grinds to a halt – and we hear just Keiko and her piano.  It’s a moment sure to make the hair on your neck stand up.  She manages, without any words at all, to capture the plight of our endangered planet.

The album closes with “Stingo,” which is surprisingly upbeat, and builds to a grandiose ending – it’s sure to be a show-stopper live.

While a lot of smooth jazz artists are content to make pleasant background music, Keiko Matsui continues to find ways to push herself in new territory.  Soul Quest finds her exploring deep, rhythmic music with satisfying results.  –Tony Peters