Hiroko Kokubu

Pure Heart

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One look and listen to the impish jazz powerhouse Hiroko Kokubu, and the Keiko Matsui comparisons will start flowing. After all, she resembles a small Asian doll, yet can hold her own with her hefty studio cohorts courtesy of a monstrous musical vision which favors instantly memorable melodies and improvisational chops galore. But there the similarities end. On the swinging Pure Heart, her strict adherence to the percussive possibilities of the acoustic piano show an upbringing full of a sassy blend of fusion and be-bop, eased into a lush pop framework. And, unlike Matsui, Kokubu shuns any real Eastern influence for exotic Concorde jettings down to seductive South America, where friends like labelmate Oscar Castro-Neves help her explore the funkier side of Brazilian breeze. While often entertaining an electric rock beat, her most glorious excursions are into pure Latin territory with the help of a frenetic horn section and the percussion swells of Alex Acuna. She's all over the map both musically and geographically (there's even a tasty electrotake on "Mrs. Robinson"), with only one misguided sidetrip into lame vocal territory with Yutaka. While never overshadowed, she receives marvelous support from Michael Landau's fiery strings and Gary Herbig, who alternates between saxes and flute depending on the mood.

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