LIVE: Yuko Kishimoto @ First Reformed Church of Schenectady, 8/31/11

Yuko Kishimoto
Yuko Kishimoto

The release party for Yuko Kishimoto’s debut disc “Songbook” allowed people to do two very important things – come together, and say goodbye. The coming together was natural, given that people who weren’t directly effected by Hurricane Irene still came away shaken, either by near misses from this storm or childhood experiences from previous storms. Stories about fallen trees hitting houses and missing spacevans were being swapped right up until showtime. The farewell added a slightly sour taste to what should have been a triumphant evening: Kishimoto’s visa was to expire two days after this show, forcing the talented pianist/composer to return to her native Japan.

But then, who needs musicians, right? After all, they’re not “job-creators!”

Despite her pending departure, Kishimoto wore a wide smile as she greeted the crowd, some of whom had already purchased copies of “Songbook” from PlanetArts Recordings majordomo Thom Bellino. The evening got underway with the straight-ahead bopper “All That’s Nice.” The theme song for an all-female jazz band that never was, “Nice” served as both a bright introduction to Kishimoto’s music and a good warm-up for her stellar band – saxman Lee Russo, bassist John Menegon and drummer Conor Meehan. Kishimoto prefaced the tune by expressing how happy she was that the group on the disc was backing her up on this evening. “It’s great to hear good musicians play my songs,” she enthused, “and hear how good they sound!”

It’s always good to hear Russo play, and his too-long, enforced absence from the scene fortified that feeling. Alternating between tenor sax and the smallest soprano sax I’ve ever seen, Russo dug deeply into the clever arrangements Kishimoto had created for material that, for the most part, had begun life as big-band pieces. Russo’s phrasing on the Monk-like “Bow Wow Chow Mein” was absolutely superb, and he seriously got his Getz on as he quoted “(Once I Had a) Secret Love” during “Whatever You Say” – a piece that didn’t make it onto “Songbook,” but has been recorded by Michael Benedict Jazz Vibes.

Having Menegon for both the disc and the show was a real coup for Kishimoto. A nationally-known bassist who helped Joe Lovano torch the Williamstown Jazz Festival a few years ago, Menegon owns anything he plays, period. The epic tone that epitomizes his playing made the space throb during the sexy bossa “Sultry,” and his bowed opening to the Ellington-esque “Maybe Someday” slurred, slid and moaned with phenomenal expression. Menegon’s adamantine-as-usual foundation allowed Meehan to show his own considerable drum talent for solo and counter-solo. He got to do both during “Whatever,” and he took us all to Carnaval right from the start of the spicy salsa “Humming.”

While Kishimoto’s own playing was elegant as ever, it took effort by the audience to actually hear it. Between the un-mic’ed set-up and the grand piano’s tendency to send its notes up instead of out, most of her solos were lost in the church’s high arched ceiling; as it was, Russo had to kick his volume up a notch to compete with Meehan’s strapping sound. Even so, the music as a whole was a perfect snapshot of Kishimoto’s composing and arranging skills, and the overall vibe was that of a gathering of friends. It was a perfect send-off for one of the best local discs of this year, even though it was also the last time we would see Kishimoto in concert for the foreseeable future. Given how hard she’s worked to establish herself in the jazz community, that’s a bitter pill to swallow.

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu
More of Rudy Lu’s photographs can be seen at Albany Jazz

In the Studio with Yuko Kishimoto, Part I
In the Studio with Yuko Kishimoto, Part II

All That’s Nice
Bow Wow Chow Mein
It’s a Mystery
Whatever You Say
Maybe Someday
Nowhere in the World

Yuko Kishimoto, Lee Russo and John Menegon
Yuko Kishimoto, Lee Russo and John Menegon
Yuko Kishimoto, John Menegon, Lee Russo and Conor Meehan
Yuko Kishimoto, John Menegon, Lee Russo and Conor Meehan
Yuko Kishimoto and Lee Russo
Yuko Kishimoto and Lee Russo
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