If name-dropping were a crime, keyboardist Keiko Matsui would have a helluva time promoting Echo. The album features a string of well-known artists, including guitarist Robben Ford, saxophonist Kirk Whalum, vocalist Gretchen Parlato, bassists Marcus Miller and Kyle Eastwood, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, and percussionist Luis Conte. Suffice to say, Matsui never wants for good company here, and not just the household-name variety. Trumpeter/flugelhornist Wayne Bergeron, for example, scores high marks on a series of horn charts that enhance the album’s brassy vitality and soulful allure.
Which brings us to keyboardist Randy Waldman. The chief architect behind eight of the album’s 10 arrangements, Waldman makes the most of the assembled talent by avoiding tacked-on solos and routine cameos. Matsui shows a similar flair for arranging on the Brazilian-tinged “Spirit Dance,” a sensuous, multi-layered showcase for Parlato’s lithe voice and a reminder of Matsui’s often overlooked stylistic reach. Of course, Echo resonates with spiritual themes and interludes, a Matsui trademark, as the focus shifts between electric and acoustic textures. Yet she and Waldman keep things moving, sometimes pitting horns against percussion during funk excursions, sometimes exuberantly accenting Latin polyrhythms. Guitarist Ford’s input on “Marlin Club Blues” is typical of the guest turns—concise and expressive—and the same goes for Miller’s sinuous bass turn on the album’s title track.
Make no mistake, Echo won’t disappoint Matsui’s core smooth-jazz audience. But no one should be surprised if the album’s colorful breadth and Waldman’s smartly integrated charts bring her plenty of new fans.