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The Ryoko Trio

Bonsai Bop


by Ian Mann

October 15, 2008


A major new talent with a highly distinctive sound.

Ryoko Nuruki is a Japanese pianist now based in Nice where this album was recorded.  Initially discovered by jazz journalist Ali Alizaldeh (aka Sir Ali) she has now come to the attention of Candid boss Alan Bates under whose auspices this album was released.

Nuruki has a unique approach to the piano and to composition. Her open ended tunes avoid the usual structures and clichés and her Japanese roots show through in much of her writing. Occasional wordless vocals add another unusual touch.

“Bonsai Bop” is comprised of largely original material with outside material coming from Daniel Goyone, Charles Trenet and Maurice Ravel reflecting the influence of Nuruki’s new homeland. The presence of an outstanding rhythm team in the form of bassist Marc Peillon and drummer El Fakir Abou is also a substantial factor in the album’s success.

Despite her classical training Nuruki is very much a percussive player but without ever falling into the kind of sub Thelonious Monk style adopted by some other players. Her rhythmic style is enhanced by the flexibility of Peillon and Abou. Collectively they sound like no other jazz piano trio I’ve heard and although jazz is clearly at the heart of what they do classical and even world music elements are also there in abundance.

The opening “Bouches D’Or” was written by fellow pianist Daniel Goyone , one of Nuruki’s mentors. Written in 13/8 it negotiates it’s way numerous stylistic changes in it’s five minute span and sets the agenda for the album.

Her own “Mata Kimasu” based on a traditional Japanese dance begins in an intensely rhythmic fashion with Abou’s percussion to the fore. A flowing middle section recalls the melodic lyricism of Pat Metheny before a virtuoso solo from the excellent Peillon adds yet more to an already rich mix. The opening theme is reprised before the close. Nuruki’s compositions certainly have a lot going on.

The light and catchy “Bonsai Bop” combines African rhythms and Asian harmonies yet manages to sound fashionably European. In ” HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]"[email protected]” the pianist pays homage to the composer in the style of Bill Evans. It’s lyrical and lovely.

“Cacurembo”- “Cache Cache” in French or “Hide And Seek” in English reveals the trio’s sense of humour as the piano chases the “hiding” bass and drums. A vehicle for improvisation this version even tosses in a quote from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

Nuruki’s original ballad “Love Is Forever” features a gorgeous, flowing melody underpinned by the richly sonorous bass of Peillon.

“I Wish You Hope” draws on Nuruki’s Asian roots and features another winning melody which the trio use as a base for improvisation. There is another outstanding contribution from Peillon and , as elsewhere on the album delightfully detailed drumming from Abou. His delicate percussive shadings contribute greatly to the group sound.

The lengthy “Sketches Of Japan” is arguably the centre piece of the album, combining Japanese melodies with jazz structures and African rhythms. It has a cinematic quality and represents a musical journey through Nuruki’s country of origin.

The brief “Early Blossom” follows, it’s song like structure keeping with the theme.“Voyage To Kagoshima”-Nuruki’s home town- completes a Japanese trilogy.

Finally there is a solo piano meditation on Charles’ Trenet’s classic “Que Reste T-Il De Nos Amours” delivered in an unhurried, gently lyrical style.

Nuruki is clearly a major new talent with a highly distinctive sound. She has a gift for melody but beneath the surface gloss and occasional blandness there is plenty of interest going on. Peillon and Abou make a major contribution to this. There are more adventurous piano trios around but Nuruki’s innate tunefulness and avoidance of stock jazz structures and rhythms has the potential to appear to a wider audience.
It would be intriguing see her in a live context and future developments will be awaited with interest.

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