Japan has a history of producing fine jazz pianists and fresh releases from two of them have just come my way.
One is new to me. On the evidence of Trisonique, Hakuei Kim is a pianist of spectacular technical accomplishment and not a little soul. He has worked extensively in Australia as well as in Japan, but is now touring with a trio called Trisonique, comprising himself, bassist Tomokazu Sugimoto, and drummer Hidenobu 'Kalta' Otsuki.
Trisonique is the band's first release on the Area Azzurra label, owned by Universal Music, and it's an impressive debut. The set comprises six original compositions and three standards - Michel Legrand's You Must Believe in Spring, Ornette Coleman's Bird Food and Paul Desmond's classic theme for the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Take Five.
That unlikely combination of composers says a lot about the eclecticism of the music, and Take Five in particular is reworked with energy and enthusiasm.
The original compositions are also strong, in particular the title track, and the lengthy ballad which closes the album, The Archaeologist.
Kim and the band will be in Hong Kong next month, one of the headliners of the Hong Kong Summer Jazz Festival 2011. They are the opening act on May 27 at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University's Jockey Club Auditorium.
Voice: The Trio Project is the latest offering on Telarc from the prolific Hiromi Uehara, who appeared here a couple of Arts Festivals back with a more fusion-oriented line-up.
She has recently appeared on albums by Return To Forever alumni - in duet with mentor Chick Corea and as the pianist in Stanley Clarke's trio with Lenny White.
Her fusion leanings are not absolutely invisible here. Drummer Simon Phillips is best known as a session and touring drummer in rock and fusion contexts. The aggression of his playing here reflects that background, and bassist Anthony Jackson's playing is also well informed by rock. But, for Uehara, this is a relatively mainstream album.
Original compositions make up most of the set, but it concludes with a swinging reinterpretation of Beethoven's Pathetique sonata.
This is a swinging, hard-driving trio, which takes Uehara in a new direction. It would be good to see this ensemble perform in Hong Kong as well.
Three noteworthy albums by Japanese jazz pianists.
Solo Piano (1971, RCA Victor): a solo outing by the most influential of Japan's postwar pianists, Toshiko Akiyoshi, in vintage form, performing her own composition, The Village, and a set of standards.
Yosuke Yamashita - Kurdish Dance (1993, Verve): avant garde-influenced pianist Yosuke Yamashita at his best with his New York trio comprising bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Pheeroan akLaff.
Live at the Village Vanguard 1 & 2 (1994, Blue Note): Junko Onishi enjoys an equally high profile in Japan and the US. These CDs, recorded live in New York, present her at her best, in a trio format with bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Herlin Riley.