Jazz Inside Magazine February 2011-CD"Mother Earth" Review

By Mark Keresman

From Japan, pianist Mamiko Watanabe currently
makes New York City her home base. A bit of
background: Watanabe has been playing since age
four and studied at the Berklee College of Music,
during which time she won awards for her emerging
improvisational skills. She honed her craft with
such swells as Joe Lovano, Tiger Okoshi, and Kevin
Mahogany. Mother Earth is the third disc under her
leadership, and it is a good one.
Her approach recalls bebop granddaddy Bud
Powell (with her ability to intelligently spin-out rapidfire
single-note lines with ease) and such percussive
pianists as McCoy Tyner (rolling, brisk) and Dave
Brubeck (“heavy" yet nimble). The opening track, the
title tune, But she can be delicate too – “Lake" evokes
minimalist key-crackers as Ran Blake and the sweeping
mainstream melodicism of Cedar Walton and the
late Gene Harris. But whatever mode she plays in,
Watanabe’s playing has a forward thrust, occasionally
fervent, always driving (except on the ballads, of
course), swinging in the classic hard- and post-bop
ways. Her take on the standard “I Remember You" has
the easygoing élan of Errol Garner, as does her beautifully
pensive original “The Moon Was Reflected On
the Sea," the latter featuring the silky, yearning, almost
Bobby Hackett-like horn-work of Kevin Louis.
The Duke’s “In a Mellow Tone" starts as a wistful ballad,
then works it way into higher gear, the rhythm
team of Ameen Saleem and Francisco Mela providing
lively, crackling, percolating support. The album closes
with the punchy, swaggering “Just Making It," which
evokes the proud, brassy spirit of mid-1960s Freddie
Hubbard and Lee Morgan without ever sounding like
them (or the ‘80s re-boppers, for that matter). “The
Murmur of the Moonlight" is a Gershwin-like panorama
– despite its dreamy title, it’s a brisk, up-and-at-
‘em-type of tune, something you might hear in a movie
soundtrack when Dudley Moore (himself a fair jazz
pianist) or Michael Caine is feeling top-of-the-world.
While it’s nothing momentous, Mother Earth
is a sterling example of a mainstream piano trio disc
– immediate, gregarious, stirring, and inspired, with
flair to spare, with no superfluous anything. Even
better, the trio’s collective technique serves the music
(as a whole), not individual egos. Like the best piano
trios, Watanabe’s threesome has the focus and interplay
of a working band. It’s a cliché, but if the shoe
fits, kick yourself with it, I say – Ms. Watanabe has
what it takes to be a jazz star.