Thursday, March 29, 2018

Flutist Mayu Saeki gently wipes the dust off the politically charged word 'Hope' in new CD

Mayu Saeki got her start in American jazz with Chico Hamilton.
Her publicity reflects such admiration for the sound of Mayu Saeki's flute that it refers to her by the quaint term "flautist."

Despite the Brit-inclined choice of term for a person who plays the flute, there is a particular elegance and tender force about how she sounds on "Hope" (BJU Records) that, as far as I'm concerned, entitles her to call herself a flautist if she prefers.

The fact remains that she commands the purest and most sustained sound on the jazz flute of anyone since the heyday of Hubert Laws. Besides, the Japanese-born New Yorker is also a skillful composer with credible aplomb in various styles.

The disc launches invitingly with "Dilemma," which despite its title seems a carefree blues with no dilemmas in view. Saeki leads a cheery statement of the theme that  sets up the solos, starting with an exciting repeated-note pattern from pianist Aaron Goldberg.

Keyboard duties on the disc are divided between Goldberg and a student of his, Nori Ochiai. Over the course of a CD lasting less than 50 minutes, just six tunes are featured. But this is not unwelcome, as so many jazz CDs today seem longer than necessary. With Saeki throughout the program are Joe Sanders, bass, and John Davis, drums.

The title song shows off Saeki's nicely sustained phrasing. Goldberg fleshes out the interpretation,  varying from a gently romantic introduction to a solo that puts a lot of skipping energy into the tune. That episode is nicely energized by complementary rhythmic elan from Davis on brushes and the dependably adept Sanders. The bandleader turns to the shinobue on "Soshu-Yakyoku," an explicit salute to her heritage, with the bassist underlining the atmosphere with an arco excursion.

Two Astor Piazzolla compositions contrast Saeki's approach to her instrument. She is heard on piccolo to lift the floating feeling of "Oblivion." The unison launch of "Libertango" for flute and bass is attractive, and Saeki displays a variety of tone here, with some staccato playing that showcases her articulation. She never just settles for a stab at such notes. There is nothing breathy or overassertive about the playing. The lyrical imagination of this fine flutist is consistently displayed. And, besides her exquisite technique, she always has something to say.