Although her press materials since 2000 have trumpeted her two wins as "Best Female Artist" at the National Smooth Jazz Awards, the brilliant Japanese-born keyboardist and composer is secure enough in her genius, spirituality, and vast popularity (1.2 million units sold to date) that she never limits herself to one genre. Her recent Narada albums have been a happily unpredictable mixed bag, with 2002's The Ring exploring her new age and classical influences and 2004's Wildflower going in a worldbeat direction, no doubt in connection with her charitable efforts on behalf of the U.N.'s World Food Program in Africa. Matsui fanatics will no doubt be jumping all over maps of her homeland looking for a place called "Akendora," but it's a place of her own creation, where she runs to spend contemplative moments and find peace. Wherever it is, fans of her jazzier side are going to love this collection. It includes trademark moments of lush piano amidst big, booming percussive and orchestral drama ("Akendora's Clock"), but focuses more on spirited, even swinging jazz, both free-form (as on the busy, trumpet-laced, scratch-heavy, urban-flavored jam "Overture for the City") and ultra-smooth (the laid-back, catchy, and hooky midtempo ballad "Gentle Sands"; the fun and playful "Canvas"). Unlike most releases categorized as smooth jazz, this is infused throughout with Matsui's unexpected creative textures. "Blue Butterfly" starts out like a typical new age number before evolving into a spacy, ambient jazz exercise complete with wild piano runs and distant horn calls. Husband and producer Kazu Matsui's unique, bass-bubbling production textures on "Crystal Shadow" turn its mainstream melody into a hypnotic, thought-provoking piece. And her early genre classic "Mountain Shakedown" is given a post-millennial spruce-up, complete with trip-hop production textures, a sped-up bassline, and some extra piano improvisation. One could literally go on for days trying to verbally capture the hundreds of surprises that fill a 44-minute Matsui project. She's hard to categorize but always an innovative delight to listen to.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2