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June 2005

Keiko Matsui
Walls of Akendora
Narada Media

Keyboardist Keiko Matsui says she conjured the fictitious name Akendora to describe a place where she finds peace and contemplation. But her latest CD opens with anything but serenity, with a wailing trumpet that gives way to an unstructured jazz piece with frantic piano runs. But that chaos leads into "Crystal Shadow," one of the two best pure pop songs on the disc, with its repeated bass lead line and Matsui's piano flitting in and out of musical spaces. Yet "Gentle Sands" is the hit, with Matsui showing her smooth-jazz acumen.

The most typically Matsui piece, "Bay of Destiny," with its pretty piano, strings and husband Kazu Matsui's shakuhachi-a traditional Japanese bamboo flute-coalesces into a thing of beauty, and the CD's most interesting song is "Canvas," which leads with a Brazilian bossa rhythm and segues into pop piano with downtempo rhythm programming. Elsewhere, Matsui updates "Mountain Shakedown" from her 1989 project Under Northern Lights, shows she can swing on "Walking Through It" and offers a jazz ballad with drum brushes on "Blue Butterfly."

Matsui adds a bonus DVD with eight live performances of songs from previous CDs recorded at Bunkamora Orchard Hall in Tokyo and a video for her song "Wildflower." She also includes an illuminating road documentary from her worldwide travels in 2004. All in all, there's enough aural and visual stimulation on these two discs that you, too, may find yourself booking your next mental vacation to Akendora.

Originally published in June 2005
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