Review by Brad Walseth
Yokohama-born musician/singer Chieko Yano is an enormously gifted pianist, singer, songwriter and guitarist, who appears here in Chicago at the Dragonfly and other venues. Her first release, Blue Sonata is a truly charming and satisfying endeavor featuring compelling originals and standards alike, all spiced with Asian, classical and jazz influences.
The title track opens the proceedings and pulls the listener into its haunting atmosphere. Yano-s gentle, but meaningful vocals lilt shyly and sweetly, perfectly complementing her piano line s- which dance along as airily and beautifully as cherry blossoms in a spring breeze. Meanwhile, sensitive support is provided by Matt Young's perceptive acoustic bass and Noritaka Tanaka's painterly drumtracks.
Patrick Williams handles the bass on over half the songs, including the delightful, bluesy next number "Foie Gras at the Motel 6," which revels in Yano's sly wordplay, while featuring some nice solo touches from Tanaka and Geof Bradford on ballsy tenor sax.
Not merely an exceptional musician and singer/songwriter, Yano's lyrics reveal intelligently penetrating thought expressed through deceptively simple, haiku-like lines. On the wonderful "Should I Wait For," Yano sings her lines in both Japanese and English, while harmonizing with herself, as well as playing the nylon string guitar part. Husband Tom Garling's trombone solo fits well and adds another complementary timbre.
The rest of the album includes interesting covers of, among others, "Someday My Prince Will Come," "Once I Loved," "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To," "The Days of Wine and Roses," and a choice multi-tracked vocal version of one of my favorite Duke Ellington pieces, "Solitude." All are done very well, and the classical, wide-ranging jazz and Asian harmonizations Yano adds, as well as the attention to the small details in the production, make for enjoyable listening indeed.
The covers are extremely well done and will please listeners who enjoy hearing the standards given their due, but for me, the most intriguing element of this recording is the original voice that this talented young artist exhibits in her own compositions, and makes me long to hear more from her. Originals like the instrumental "Embrace" (featuring Scott Mason on bass) and the "The Moment You Touch Me" are true gems and examples of the type of modern "standards" we in the jazz world should be trumpeting. "Blue Sonata" is a stellar debut from an important young artist who needs to be heard from.