The New York City Jazz Record March 2011-CD"Mother Earth" Review

by Terrell Holmes

In an era where “going green" has become one of our
most prominent and important mottoes, jazz may have
in Mother Earth a fine concept album that pays tribute
to our planet. Comprised mainly of original songs, this
paean to the planet’s beauty is played with fire and
sensitivity by this stellar pianist and her band.
Watanabe sprints off the blocks immediately with
the Latin burner “A Little Piece for Dance—Mother
Earth". She’s a dynamo on the keys, whipping up
dazzling runs with Ameen Saleem and Francisco Mela
percolating on bass and drums alongside her. The
band’s bouncing rendition of “I Remember You"
transforms into a ditty suggesting grinning
recollections of good times instead of misty, watercolor
memories. The ballad “Lake" contains whispers of
“Blue in Green" and Watanabe’s tender styling
shimmers like ripples on its surface.
Watanabe takes a fabulous approach to “In a
Mellow Tone". By aggressively changing the key, time
signature and tempo she creates a fresh version of a
standard - think of Ellington through the lens of Herbie
Hancock. Kevin Louis’ dreamy flugelhorn and Saleem’s
plucked solo with an ocean-deep tone lie at the center
of the ruminative “The Moon Was Reflected on the
Sea". Louis also plays on “Verdure", an uptempo piece,
in a classic bop vein, on which Watanabe shows her
impressive skills as a composer. And Watanabe puts
some challenging wrinkles in “Just Making It"; Louis’
cornet and Mela’s drumming truly bring out this tune’s
funk-based character.
Watanabe is a pleasantly restless sojourner who
explores every possibility a song has to offer, then
exploits it wonderfully. She’s as deft and light-fingered
as a pickpocket as she plays flawless, concerto-quality
piano. Throughout Mother Earth Watanabe displays
talents as a pianist, composer and arranger that makes
a listener smile and shake their head with the pleasure
of it all. And on this disc, the pleasures are many.