On the Yoko Miwa Trio at Downtown Crossing
A couple of weekends ago I had the opportunity to stop in at Downtown Crossing in Boston, for one of the last “Jazz in July” noontime performances–this one by the Yoko Miwa Trio, an ensemble which happens to be a client of Brenda Prescott Coordinates, the artist representation company of my magnificent friend Brenda. I haven’t been to Downtown Crossing in ages, and the condition of the place made me sad. It’s a pedestrian way in central Boston which had been, in its heyday, anchored by Jordan Marsh and Filene’s, but with the rise of the suburban malls in the last thirty or forty years, the area has increasingly gone downhill. Jordan Marsh has been subsumed into Macy’s and has become generic; Filene’s is gone entirely. With the anchor stores losing ground, the smaller stores have abandoned the Washington Street area, leaving the cut-rates behind. The wonderful building that had been Filene’s, in fact, is apparently being torn down. To be replaced by what?
“Jazz in July,” however, is an attempt by the Boston Business Improvement District to liven things up. A bevy of artists were listed as participating, on the calendar sign board Brenda and I came across in our walk toward the space where Yoko and her fellow musicians were set up: a space under an awning–the sun was bright and hot–between Macy’s and the old graceful Filene’s building. I know little of jazz, though I’ve been listening to as much Yoko Miwa as I have been able to find since she signed on with Brenda–and I was eager to see the trio in person, to further my experience.
Yoko is a pianist, and the rest of her trio is made up of a bassist and a percussionist. In this setting, she was playing an electric keyboard– I’ve only seen clips of her on pianos with full keyboards, such as in her take on Steve Tyler’s “Seasons of Wither:”
but she was able to pound a bit of serious sound out of the light-weight-seeming instrument at Downtown Crossing. Backing her up, Greg Loughman (bass) and Scott Goulding (drums) provided an understated punctuation to her playing; the three, in their voiceless interaction as they by turns swung, swooped and sailed through their pieces, gave evidence that they’ve played together long enough to read each other well.
One of the pieces I got to hear was a cover of “Drowning in My Own Tears” by Ray Charles. No vocals, of course–nobody should attempt to cover Ray Charles vocals, and that’s all there is to it–but a melody that was sometimes caressed, sometimes fiercely played. The crowd seemed to enjoy it; several people I saw nodding appreciatively when Yoko Miwa credited Charles at the end. From there the trio segued into an intriguing version of the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home,” a song I’ve only ever heard done by the Beatles, or as some mind-numbing elevator music: Yoko Miwa’s version was different from both, a piano line filled with anger and longing and incredible sadness.
During their break, I got to listen in to shop talk between Brenda and her clients. During the previous week, Brenda had received master copies of live recordings of the trio, which had been re-engineered to heighten the instrumentals and cut back on the ambient sound. (At one point during our weekend, Brenda played a part of the original for me, then part of the remastering: the difference in depth and tone and color was astonishing.) Yoko Miwa seemed excited by the work that had been done on the recordings; there are plans to issue them on CD. I, for one, can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.
The Trio seems to be everywhere this summer–if you’re in the Boston area. Regattabar, Les Zygomates, Ryles Jazz Club. Details here. Go, if you get the chance. The sound this woman coaxes out of a piano, grand or otherwise, is well worth it.