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Keiko Matsui: Live in Tokyo

Keiko Matsui’s 2013 Soul Quest album was particularly important to the Tokyo-born pianist, not only because it celebrated the 25th anniversary of her debut U.S. release but also because she made it following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan-which she experienced first-hand. Live in Tokyo, presented here on both audio CD and DVD, captures Matsui’s first return to her hometown since the tragedy, the finale of her 2014 tour. It reprises most of Soul Quest more or less faithfully, Matsui accompanied by her road band of guitarist JP Mourao, saxophonist Tom Braxton, Rico Belled on bass and Dave Karasony drumming. She’s also joined by guitarist Chuck Loeb, who produced half of Soul Quest, and tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum, who played on it.

Neither Matsui nor her band is particularly adventurous, but neither do they play it cautiously. A demonstrable soulfulness suffuses her playing, which is never less than absorbing and accomplished. “Antarctica-A Call to Action,” is a steady builder, Matsui and bandmates taking their time creating intensity, then just as deliberately peeling it away. “Proof,” one of the Soul Quest songs written with Loeb, features the guitarist and the pianist trading lean and precise solos, and “Forever Forever,” one of Matsui’s best-known pieces, is presented sans accompaniment, allowing Matsui to bring to the melody greater depth than she attained on the now-dated-sounding original recording from 1998.

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