CD Review - “Falling Leaves - Live in Hamburg” - AllAboutJazz-New York - September 2010 | No. 101

Sep 1st, 2010 | By Jan Matthies | Category: Press Ayako Shirasaki, JP

- Joel Roberts in AllAboutJazz-New York - September 2010 | No. 101 on page 28.
Click here to go directly to this review in AllAboutJazz-New York (pdf download)

“A former jazz piano prodigy in her native Japan (she transcribed Bud Powell solos at the age of five and was performing regularly at Tokyo jazz clubs by 12), Ayako Shirasaki has been making a name for herself in recent years on the New York scene. A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, where she studied with Kenny Barron and Ted Rosenthal, among others, she’s appeared at most of the city’s major clubs and played with top mainstream talent like Lewis Nash, Kenny Garrett and Harold Ousley.

On her latest release, the solo piano disc Falling Leaves, recorded last year before an appreciative audience at a Hamburg concert hall, Shirasaki mixes superb classically-based technique, advanced harmonic ideas and a rich, creative musical imagination. While much of her bebop-rooted program draws on standards and well-known jazz fare, she imbues every song she plays with a deeply personal, poetic touch that favorably recalls sophisticated piano masters like Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones.

She begins Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation”, for example, with an abstract, nearly unrecognizable intro before diving into the familiar Bird refrain. On Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin”, she blends in classical flourishes and even a surprising touch of stride. She also pays tribute to the great bebop pianist Barry Harris with a rousing rendition of his “Nascimento”, a crowdpleasing samba complete with rhythmic handclaps. The three original compositions she includes here also show enormous promise and range, from the spunky, Monk-influenced “Monkey Punch” to the dreamy, sophisticated “Far Away”.

Shirasaki has a refreshing sense of humor, too. Taking audience requests for her encores, she admits she hasn’t played “Moonglow” for 20 years and “My Romance” for 5 years, then turns around and knocks out moving, inventive, bravura performances of the two old chestnuts. And she closes the album on an improvisational high, merging Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and Rollins’ “St. Thomas” in an unlikely and exhilarating impromptu medley, played in 5/4 time. It’s a thrilling ending to a highly enjoyable album by a new jazz star in the making.”

Ayako Shirasaki: Falling Leaves - Live in Hamburg

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