Pianist Takayuki Yagi’s 2018 release New Departure brings him together with stars of the New York jazz scene for a solid collaboration of New York and Tokyo energies.

Strident and upbeat, the album’s 11 tracks are arranged in a two-set configuration, splitting the album into a jazz quintet set and a piano trio set. The quintet kicks off the music with four tracks as the pianist is joined by Scott Wendholt on trumpet, Ralph Bowen on tenor sax, Jay Anderson on bass, and Billy Drummond on drums. Pianist Yagi features his original tunes which are spiky, fun, and swinging with titles like “Beyond The New Horizons”, “View From Newark”, and “Kyoto Tower”. The titles hint at evocative settings while the music carries influences like McCoy Tyner, Lennie Tristano, and Thelonious Monk.

A somewhat dark-tinged recording, the brightness of the front-line horns provides a nice balance to the deep, heavy piano and rhythm section, resulting in a nice integration of light and dark, flash and depth. The robust consistency from Anderson and Drummond on bass and drums keeps the whole album locked into a powerful groove through both quintet and trio formations.

The second set features Yagi’s piano trio playing two original songs and five tunes from the likes of Duke Pearson, Larry Young, and others. Compared to the quintet, the trio is comparatively laid-back yet stylishly modern, with vibes of Hampton Hawes, Barry Harris, Duke Ellington, and Mulgrew Miller in the mix.

Whether playing with his horn mates or leading the trio, Yagi plays with unbridled energy at the keys, bursting through with chunky blocks and frenzied strings of notes. The exuberance of the piano player is clear, striving to make his mark through this New Departure into modern jazz themes with a classic hardbop sensibility.

A translation of the liner notes:

About the songs (Yakayuki Yagi)

01. Beyond The New Horizons (Takayuki Yagi)

The title relates to NASA’s Pluto space probe New Horizons.

Imagine a vivid image of Pluto brought about during the composition.

02. View From Newark (Takayuki Yagi)

A song written with the image of the wonderful trumpeter Woody Shaw.

The title is associated with a winter morning in Newark, looking at the view of Manhattan and > Woody’s hometown.

03. Music On The Second Floor (Takayuki Yagi)

A song dedicated to a jazz club in Yokohama which has been like a performance home to me for a > long time.

04. 130 East 7th Street (Takayuki Yagi)

A song I wrote for the session at the University of the Streets in East Village a long time ago.

05. Kyoto Tower (Takayuki Yagi)

The theme is Kyoto Tower, which I used to see every day in my hometown of Kyoto.

The title references the echoes of oriental-style harmony at the opening.

06. Rockland Blues (Takayuki Yagi)

I created this song as I thought that I should write a simple blues.

The title comes from the name of the town I was staying in during the recording.

07. Ritha (Larry Young)

A beautiful song written by organist Larry Young.

It also fits the piano trio well, so in addition to playing it live, it’s also a song I chose > for this recording.

08. Nature Boy (Eden Ahbez)

Eden Ahbez’s wondrous song. Various images well up when I play this, and it’s a song I have > wanted to record for a long time.

09. Is That So? (Duke Pearson)

A song by pianist Duke Pearson. The innovative changes and the arrangement of the theme are > interesting.

10. On The Real Side (Walter Davis Jr.)

Pianist Walter Davis Jr. left a lot of wonderful songs despite being very underappreciated. > This was originally recorded as a piano solo.

11. Two Faces of Nasheet (Frederick Waits)

Drummer Frederick Waits wrote this song thinking of his son Nasheet, constructed in two parts > with a free section also engaged in close combat.

New Departure by Takayuki Yagi

Released in 2018 on JazzTOKYO RECORDS as JTRC-002.

Japanese Names: Takayuki Yagi 八木隆幸

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Jan 19, 2021 (Updated Jan 7, 2022)