Monday, May 21, 2007


Moyo (Heart & Soul)
By Keiko Matsui
Shout! Factory

Hugh Masekela was one of the crossover jazz stars of the 1970’s, finding a commercial blend of jazz pop, and African music that found listeners in all three camps. For her latest CD Moyo, Keiko Matsui went to South Africa for the collaborative inspiration of the country’s musicians, including Masekela himself.

Given her new age background, it is not surprising Moyo has stronger melodic qualities than improvisational fire, but many of those melodies are quite strong. The title opener has an atmospheric feel that benefits from Richard Bona’s vocals and bass. “Caricias” is another strong melody that shows off Matsui’s touch on the piano, although one could argue the synthesizers are just a touch heavy. The pitfalls of the album come on cuts like “Into the Night,” where Gerald Albright’s smooth tenor borders on the cloying.

“An Evening in Gibraltar” and “Old Potch Road” are both highpoints that feature Masekela in some excellent brass arrangements, capturing the vibe of Masekela’s best Chisa cuts. “Potch” is a particular highlight of the CD, featuring a joyful solo from Masekela, a downright swinging solo from Matsui, and some nice interplay between the two.

Although “After the Rain” features Paul Taylor’s soprano instead of brass, it comes the closest in tone to the Masekela collaborations. It is an interesting mix of wistful soprano and piano, with Lucas Senyatso’s funky bass.

“Um Novo Dia (A New Day)” is another cut defined by Matsui’s inspiration from Africa and African artists. Angolan vocalist Waldemar Bastos’ Portuguese vocals and Bona’s bass and programming combine effectively in a dramatic track.

Matsui has attracted some first class contributors to Moyo, giving it a distinctive sound, although there is an over-reliance on synthesizers for many listeners’ tastes (or at least mine). While the CD is a bit uneven, there are many highlights that suggest her African influences are a rewarding avenue of exploration for Matsui. It would be great to hear her continue with African themes—unplugged.