Keiko Matsui is a master on the piano or the keytar, and she’s demonstrated her technical skills both on record and onstage—especially during her remarkable four-hand piano gigs with Bob James. But throughout her distinguished career, Matsui hasn’t been overly concerned with garnering recognition for her virtuosity. The Tokyo-born artist, although often placed in the contemporary-jazz category, has always been more about inspiration and hope. Her lovely runs on the ivories have shuttled her to the top of the new-age charts. Matsui’s last CD, Moyo (Heart and Soul), featured collaborations with top jazz stars, a world-music vibe and a certain edginess and aggression; it was Matsui’s debut as a solo producer, following her separation from musical partner and husband Kazu Matsui.
Now, with The Road, Matsui combines all of her musical knowledge on a project boasting accessible jazz overtones and an acoustic sensibility. The brilliant Cameroonian bassist, percussionist and vocalist Richard Bona adds to the delight with “Falcon’s Wing,” his deft percussive touch meshing effortlessly with his wordless vocals. He returns with fretless bass on “Nguea Wonja,” a song with African roots. Legendary session drummer Vinnie Colaiuta works his brushes on the soft and jazzy “Embrace & Surrender,” which is arranged by Derek Nakamoto and features some oddly inviting country-style guitar solos from James Hara. “Touch and Peace” is classic new-age Matsui, a gorgeous piece with minimalist accompaniment from Bona and drummer Mauricio Zottarelli. She concludes with the title track, a smart, anthemic number invigorated by saxophonist Jackiem Joyner, a member of Matsui’s band and a rising smooth-jazz star in her own right.