On her fourth and latest album Beautiful Days (2017), pianist Fumie Chiba records eleven new compositions with a jazz sextet, a piano trio plus trumpet, sax, and vocals. While her first two albums Tip of Dream (2009) and Echoes (2013) featured her jazz trio, the expanded group on her previous Roguequeue (2015) and on this album well suits the textures she strives for. Freshness and energy flow through the rich harmonies and interplay with attention paid to the compositional detail throughout the music.

As suggested by the bright album photos, the music inspires verdant images from nature: gentle, green, flowing, water… and of course, swinging. Not bebop or a conventional big band swing feeling, but almost a classical, fantastic beauty and pulse.

With eleven songs over an hour, most songs run for five to six minutes, ample time to establish a mood and rhythmic patterns to develop over. Chiba’s music often sets up a repeated riff on which the harmonized horns and vocals soar in graceful crescents. On top of this, the music is detailed like corners adorned with decorations and interesting pathways running to and fro. Some moments almost bring to mind the British contemporary jazz trio Azimuth’s music, with cell-like patterns phasing in and out while wordless vocal improvisation floats around and joins with the music and rhythms.

As the music is consistently interesting and the songs are varied, it’s hard to pick excerpts from this packed album, but some current highlights include the breezily modern opening track “Asayake No Uta”, the stylish and delicate “Invisible Colors”, the inspiring reverie of “Kite”, and the beautifully crystalline “Water Drops”.

Most songs feature the full group, with songs for two piano trio and one solo piano piece. As with Chiba’s other albums, Beautiful Days concludes with the pianist alone, playing a moving solo piano feature with full notes and heartfelt passages.

Beautiful Days by Fumie Chiba

Released in 2017 on USAGI Records as UR-002.

Japanese Names: Fumie Chiba 千葉史絵 Mitsuru Tanaka 田中充 Shunosuke Ishikawa 石川周之介 Aya Kurosawa 黒沢綾 Koji Tetsui 鉄井孝司 Kaoru Suzuki 鈴木郁

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May 27, 2021