Review by Michael Pronko
Published on

Yayoi Ikawa Quartet
Tokyo TUC November 24, 2007

Yayoi Ikawa – piano
Jonathan Powell – trumpet
Evan Gregor – bass
Jordan Perlson – drums

This relatively young quartet worked magic with feeling and lots and lots of energy. They used their youth as strength, and never relied just on their obvious chops, but always infused their songs with emotional power. That made it easy to get into their challenging approach without having to trade complexity for connection. Their nicely balanced approach made their music something much more.

Powell and Gregor's solos were strongly stated, but solos never disconnected from the total group sounded. In this quartet, everything shifts confidently back and forth, from soloist to soloist, from chords to melody, from one frame of mind to the next. The quartet kept a deep pulse of intricate interaction on every song.

Ikawa's compositions formed the core of the material, and her writing contains not just a lead line, but also a larger set of conditions for improvising. The covers of "Embraceable You" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" were also arranged in with remarkable, and almost unrecognizable, dexterity. The melody may have been transposed to something more complex, but the inner tick and feel of the songs was right on target.

These arrangements and approaches opened up large spaces and fluid directions. Gregor and Perlson kept wave-like flows of rhythm surging beneath Ikawa's full-fisted chording and Powell's strong, stark trumpeting. On tunes like "Daffy's Groove" all four pushed the song far out, but then pulled it back into the groove just as strongly. On slower tunes like "Color of Dreams," the title track of their just-released CD, the quartet also wove dense textures and calm melodic swells.
Ikawa's solos took center stage, of course. She upped the intensity on every song with thick, rich handfuls of piano. The pulse of her playing, whether out front or behind Powell or the solos, was vibrant. .
Still, at other times, she played long, clean lines that stopped at unexpected points, but always the right unexpected points. Her solos were fast, sharp, muscular and clearly felt

Ikawa is a strong presence. Her intensity just rivets attention to everything she does. With a potent left hand and a searching right, her style feels steeped in multiple influences, but has its own distinctive voice. Her approach makes it obvious that she will continue to be a composer and pianist who goes from one high point to the next. "Color of Dreams" is just one of the first, but there will be many more. Music that rouses the mind and stirs the feelings so well as this always has a great future.