Keiko Matsui’s new project feels like it’s very much a new direction for the veteran artist, who made her debut 20 years ago and now blossoms with a new record label. The CD is also the first she’s produced by herself after her divorce from husband Kazu Matsui, who had produced her previous CDs. Keiko Matsui’s elegant acoustic piano melodies are still front and center (never more so than on the simply beautiful “When I Close My Eyes”), but much of the orchestral sweep of previous compositions has given way to an organic, less-is-more direction. She’s also added a dash of world music, as she recorded Moyo (Swahili for “heart and soul”) on location with musicians in South Africa, the U.S. and her native Japan.
It’s the collaborations that make Moyo such an enjoyable trip. Saxophonist Paul Taylor, who began to get noticed in the early 1990s while a member of Matsui’s band, plays his sweet soprano on “Black River” and “After the Rain,” two possible smooth-jazz hits with the latter featuring the jumpy rhythms so typical of South African music. Trumpeter Hugh Masekela—no one exemplifies the spirit of South Africa more than this legend—lends his expertise to the street-market sound of “Old Potch Road.” Gerald Albright’s smoky sax add a touch of class to “Into the Night,” while Waldemar Bastos’ rich and much-traveled Portuguese vocals and Richard Bona’s haunting bass lines and Akira Jimbo’s steady drumming evoke Latin images in “Um Novo Dia (A New Day).”