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 Recording of the Week, Eri Yamamoto's Goshu Ondo Suite

Goshu Ondo Suite

This is something of a curio, a work for jazz piano trio and 50-part choir, not a combination that you happen across every day. Quite a few artists like Oscar Peterson have dabbled with this form in the past, often with rather cheesy results, so I was glad to have my preconceptions quashed with Goshu Ondo Suite from Japanese pianist and composer Eri Yamamoto.

Born in Shiga Prefecture, Japan, Yamamoto moved to NYC in 1995, and formed a longstanding trio with bassist David Ambrosio and drummer Ikuo Takeuchi, who appear here. Composed in collaboration with Vince Peterson, director of Choral Chameleon, the work is inspired by the ‘Goshu ondo’, a traditional Japanese dance song, the form of which chimes with jazz improvisation. There is a set theme, from which performers can then improvise before returning to the choir who sing the theme back at them, and Eri Yamamoto successfully adapts the format to include her jazz piano trio. The feel of the music is rhapsodic, the Japanese scales suiting the jazz context, and as the piece progresses divisions between choir parts and the trio dissolve, with the choir feeling like an improvising instrument in itself. The Japanese text almost makes the choir sound like they are singing a vocalise, at times recalling the final part of Debussy’s Nocturnes, or some of Lou Harrison’s Balinese-inspired music.

Yamamoto and trio play in a variety of moods, often with a driving pulse, and the overall spirit is very much in keeping with Goshu Ondo’s origins as a dance form. Suite 3 is based on an impressive extended solo from Yamamoto, and the gradual return of the choir towards the end of the section is simply spellbinding. The trio get some nice spots to themselves, as in the swinging Part 5, and in Part 6 solo voices from the choir are used in an almost pointillistic manner, punctuating Yamamoto’s lines. At 50 minutes the suite could risk losing focus, but manages to maintain a sense of momentum, and everything builds towards the ecstatic final part, bringing the work to a satisfying close. The short trio piece Echo of Echo is a good way to finish - a thoughtful, meditative piece that lets the listener drift gently back to earth.

Eri Yamamoto & Choral Chameleon

Available Format: CD