Bob James / Keiko Matsui

Altair & Vega

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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann

Bob James and Keiko Matsui's Altair & Vega is a solo piano album performed by a duo, and for the most part, that means what it sounds like, two jazz pianists seated together at one keyboard playing four-handed parts. On the James-composed title track (which refers to two stars that pass each other only once a year), previously recorded and released on the 2001 James album Dancing on the Water, Matsui takes the upper part of the piano and James the lower part in a piece that sounds more new age than jazz. Matsui's "Frozen Lake" (which finds them separating to their own keyboards, James' is a digital one) leans even more in that direction, suggesting the sound of David Lanz or George Winston (or the two together). James' "Divertimento," for which they are back on the same piano bench, is a lively piece based on Haydn, while Matsui's "Midnight Stone" and "Invisible Wing" again bring in new age elements, the latter also showing a classical influence. The album's real tour de force is the 13-minute, jointly written "Forever Variations" (a take-off from Matsui's "Forever Forever"), which is full of fast, dense passages that take four hands to play. At the end, Bach's familiar "Chorale from Cantata BWV 147" is given an unusually melancholic treatment in James' arrangement, serving as a coda. The wonder is that the two busy pianists don't get in each other's way in this music, but the album is the culmination of years of playing together, in the studio and on concert tours, so a lot of preparation went into these performances, resulting in an accomplished recording of some intricate keyboard playing.

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