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REVIEW: Energy, Hope and Smooth Jazz: Keiko Matsui at The Dakota

Jazz pianist and composer Keiko Matsui performed at The Dakota in Minneapolis, MN on May 14. Photo by Raj Naik.

If you have listened to smooth jazz at any point over the last three decades, then you know the music of pianist and composer Keiko Matsui.  But don’t let the “smooth jazz” label fool you;  Matsui’s music is neither homogenous nor bland.  Last night at The Dakota, the full range and force of her compositions were on display: from new age mood music to funky swing to discordant jazz. 

Jazz pianist and composer Keiko Matsui. Photo by Raj Naik.

Matsui’s 30th album, Euphoria (Shanachie Entertainment), came out just a few weeks ago, and most of the songs she played during her set were from that album:  including “Steps on the Globe” (which is already omnipresent on jazz radio), “The Choice”, “Mossy Mountain” “The Choice”, “Prairie Morning”, “Neo”, “Legend of Yaguarón”, “Luminescence”, and the title track, “Euphoria”. There was also a sampling of older compositions: “Moving On” (from Journey to the Heart (2016)), “Moon Over Gotham” (from Echo (2019)), “Forever Forever” (from Full Moon and the Shrine (1998)), and, for her encore, “Bridge Over the Stars” (from Dream Walk (1996)). 

Matsui mostly played the piano, but she also occasionally went to a melodica and a keyboard for key portions of certain songs.  She was very ably supported by her touring band: JP Mourão on guitar, Rico Belled on bass and keyboard, and Jimmy Branly on drums.  When needed, Belled and Branly created a steady, driving beat that gave power and energy to many of the songs.  And Mourão’s excellent solos were sometimes reminiscent of the great rock guitarists of our youth.   

Matsui did not speak much between songs.  What she did say echoed the explanations of her music she has given in interviews over the years:  that her music is about hope and energy and self-discovery, and about caring for one another and for the planet.  About Euphoria, Matsui has remarked, “This music is dedicated to a new era”, describing it as “about the hope that we all carry inside of us”.  Between songs last evening, Matsui explained how thankful she was to be able to be back on the road, and to be back at The Dakota, and the packed club returned the appreciation enthusiastically.


Brian Bix