For those who like a little mysticism and classical influence in their smooth jazz, Japanese-born composer and keyboardist Keiko Matsui has long been the ticket. She was Billboard's number one Independent Contemporary Jazz Artist in 1997 and is the top New Adult Contemporary female instrumentalist of her time. In the early days (she's up to 14 albums now), Matsui did it with a mix of thunderous film score-like sweeps, elegant and jazzy piano command, and a guest sax solo here and there to score some radio hits. On The Ring, she continues her recent trend of all those same elements and gorgeous melodies without concern for pop airplay considerations.
Keiko Matsui is the Stevie Nicks of contemporary jazz. In her photos, she always appears pale, out of a mist, like a fairy goddess or angel. Her creative and long popular blend of classical piano, aggressive jazz/funk, orchestral grandeur, and sonic elements from her native Japan allows her to create both poignant ballads and more aggressive fusion statements. Over the course of her last few albums, Matsui's Lindsey Buckingham – always at her side, pushing her performance harder and higher – has been seductive saxman Paul Taylor. On this ethereal mind trip, Full Moon and the Shrine (Countdown/Unity), she doesn't let Taylor stray too far.
Released in 2013, Keiko Matsui's funky, groove-centric Soul Quest featured Narada Michael Walden, Marcus Miller, Chuck Loeb, and Kirk Whalum, among others. It placed high on the jazz charts and set her upon a world tour that resulted in 2015's Live in Tokyo. Arriving in 2016, Journey to the Heart marks her 27th album as a leader and her 30th anniversary as a recording artist. It's a much more organic set that places her acoustic piano at the fore. Her collaborators include bassist Carlitos Del Puerto, drummer Jimmy Branley, guitarist Ramon Stagnero, percussionist Luis Quintero, and Gregoire Maret on harmonica.
New age composer/multi-instrumentalist Kazu Matsui reinterprets the works of Franz Schubert in Tribal Schubert, placing his classical compositions into completely different, refreshing contexts. Matsui introduces and integrates jazz, hip-hop, ambient, Eastern and improvisational elements into Schubert pieces, transcending the formality of the original works while preserving the melodic beauty of the originals. Tribal Schubert also features new age/jazz pianist Matsui on several tracks, adding to the album's diverse mix of classical and cutting edge.
If we're talking Keiko Matsui, we can expect another impressionistic album cover which belies the often explosive music on the disc. Matsui draws a little more from her heritage this time but textures it with soulful excursions ("Walking on the Bridge")….
This stellar work contains the elements of classical music combined with the influences of both Matsui and James thus creating a work that is partially written and partially improvised adding a lovely depth of feeling and intimate connection of artistic expression. The title of this piano duet release, Altair & Vega, refers to a Japanese folkloric tale about two stars in the galaxy that cross paths only once a year. The bonus DVD of a concert the two performed in 2010 in Pittsburgh at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild clearly reveals a shared admiration and respect.