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Mikiko Nagatake: Solo
In welcome succession for eager fans, pianist Mikiko Nagatake released a batch of albums for the young jazz label Owl Wing based in Tokyo in recent years. Her works include two records as leader of a piano trio (Into the Forest, 2021, and Breathe Beneath the Sun, 2022), a solo album, a duo album with saxophonist Nami Kano (Jabuticaba, 2021), and a live album with trumpet player Tetsuji Yoshida (Live at Knuttle House, 2022). In fact, a new duo album (Locura de Amor, 2023) with flute player Naohiko Amatatsu was also just announced in the past several days.
On this album from 2022, concisely titled Solo, the versatile pianist deploys a range of piano approaches that she honed during her years-long residency at the jazz bar Nardis located in the outer fringes of Tokyo.
Solo contains thirteen tracks arranged for piano by Nagatake, some of which she tailored to make the most of the sound of piano jazz, and others improvised completely as spontaneous piano music. Most songs are five minutes or less, which Nagatake set as a self-imposed limit to allow for different facets of her playing to emerge on the album’s many tracks. This variety and balance combined with the excellent songs selected by the pianist keeps the album moving and listeners engaged.
Some songs, like the ballads “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” and “Prelude to a Kiss” are played slowly with a patient, romantic finesse, contrasting with other tracks like “Invitation”, “Green Chimneys”, and “Tea For Two”, which explode with creative abandon, swinging hard with a just-controlled wildness.
One interesting arrangement on this album is Nagatake’s choice to divide the album into two sections. The first set of nine songs is made up of selected jazz standards, including popular songs and lesser-known favorites of jazz buffs and musicians. As she explains in the liner notes, she avoids the temptation to replicate the sound of a trio or a full band on solo piano, choosing to make the most of her independence to interpret each song freely. Nagatake plays the music soulfully and with rapt attention, unfolding each song according to her feelings and judgment in the moment.
Beginning with an interlude on track ten, “Impro ~Invitation to My Songs~”, the final three tracks consist of the pianist’s original compositions. Following the tour of jazz standards and covers, this second part of the album displays sensitive and melodically rich aspects of Nagatake’s playing and conceptions, perhaps also the additional beauty of vulnerability felt when sharing original compositions, alone at the piano, for us.
(Translated from the original Japanese liner notes written by Mikiko Nagatake.)
It’s an honor to be able to record this solo piano album, the sixth release in the Owl Wing Record Solo Piano Series.
Beginning in my student days, I was given the opportunity to perform monthly in solo live settings at the live house Nardis in Kashiwa. Every month, I would learn a lot by studying the audience's reactions and the atmosphere. Over seven or eight years, it added up to around one hundred of these performances in total. What a blessing! I am truly grateful to Mr. Komine, the proprietor of Nardis.
When I first started to play solo concerts, I felt as if I should try to simulate a full band by myself, and I made an effort to rigorously keep the tempo, play bass lines, and so on. But over time as my experience deepened, I began to feel a strong desire to focus on things that could only be done in a solo context. I began to avoid clinging strictly to chord changes or tempos, and the boundary between the songs and my improvisation gradually disappeared. On any particular day, there may be a completely improvised set, or a set limited to certain composers, but in general, sets alternating between jazz standards and improvisation were numerous.
In this way, I have selected standard songs with a high degree of freedom for this album. For live performances, one song may last about ten minutes, but for CDs, personally, I prefer to have many shorter pieces (especially with solo piano albums), much like the meals of Kyoto-style obanzai or Sri Lankan cooking. Most of the songs on this album are about five minutes long or less.
“Invitation”, “These Foolish Things”, and “Tea for Two” were consciously arranged with a pianistic approach, whereas “Limbo” and “Green Chimneys” emanated freely with on-the-spot arrangements. I also wanted to include “I’ll Walk Alone”, a song by a pair I love, the great July Styne and Sammy Cahn. As you can see, the first part of the album contains vocal songs, standards, and songs from jazz giants. The second part contains three of my original songs which I especially wanted to play in a solo piano context. The last song, “Engawa”, was written for contrabass player Tetsu Saitoh.
This album was recorded on solo piano in a one-room studio, and I’m extremely grateful for the care and attention from engineer Morishita and the label’s Aratake and Komori, who graciously arranged for me quiet recording conditions allowing for concentration. Thank you very much. Whether for one listener or to many, I hope this album reaches you.
Solo by Mikiko Nagatake
Mikiko Nagatake - piano
Released in 2022 on Owl Wing Record as OWR-044.
Japanese names: Mikiko Nagatake 永武幹子
Tetsuji Yoshida & Mikiko Nagatake Duo: Live at Knuttel House (2021)
Audio and Video
Excerpt from “Green Chimneys”, track #6 on this album: