Chihiro Yamanaka

Forever Begins

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Much better known in her native Japan (where she regularly tops the jazz charts), pianist Chihiro Yamanaka makes a strong claim to neo-bop mastery with Forever Begins, played with her trio, also featuring Ben Williams on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums. Yamanaka takes a playful tone on the original opener, ironically called "So Long," establishing that she will play lightning runs, sometimes taking up the whole keyboard, to sinuous rhythms. She acknowledges a major influence with Bud Powell's "Blue Pearl." Her "Cherokee" is a multi-part reinvention of the old swing standard, and she invests "Good Morning, Heartache" with unusual liveliness. Not surprisingly, given her energy, she particularly enjoys Latin rhythms on "Saudade e Carinho" and "The Moon Was Yellow." And she moves toward post-bop with her nearly nine-minute take on Russell Ferrante's "Avance." American mainstream jazz fans who may not be aware of Chihiro Yamanaka (even though she is based in the U.S.) would do well to seek out this album and some of the pianist's earlier work.

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