The hard thing about Yoko Miwa is that she makes it sound so easy. It isn’t just that the Boston-based pianist, a longtime instructor at Berklee, keeps her harmony elegantly consonant, and her improvised lines tunefully logical; she also plays with such a big, classically-informed sound that even the rough bits in her music, like the dense, bluesy chords in her version of Mingus’ “Boogie Stop Shuffle,” somehow sound … pretty.
Not that there’s anything wrong with pretty, but it’s not a quality that the jazz intelligentsia much values. Ahmad Jamal’s great trio recordings were sniffed at for sounding too much at home in the cocktail lounge, and even some of Oscar Peterson’s work was dismissed for being too beautiful.
But as Keep Talkin’ makes plain, beauty does not necessarily equate with blandness. Yes, she makes the most of the melodies in this album’s Beatle cover (“Golden Slumbers/You Never Give Me Your Money”), but she also makes those melodies feel convincingly like jazz, which is a feat too few improvisors manage.
Likewise, her take on the Monk classic “In Walked Bud” has a lot going on beneath its deceptively smooth surface. The chord hits she drops behind bassist Will Slater’s statement of the melody make for a great arrangement, but they also subtly but cleverly expand on Monk’s harmonic concepts, just as the left-hand accents in her solo evoke the stride roots of Monk’s playing without being imitative. It’s really inventive, and deploys a jaw-dropping degree of technique without ever coming off as showy. Should we complain because it’s also very easy on the ears?
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