Keiko Matsui Brightens a Dark and Stormy Night in Richmond

Keiko Matsui , piano, JP Moarao, guitar, Rico Belled, bass, and Jimmy Branly, drums, playing at The Tin Pan. Photo was taken on April 8, 2019. Photo Credit: © Dave Pearson 2019

Richmond, VA Competing with an NCAA championship that included the home state favorite, UVA and with a weather forecast that called for a dark and stormy night, world renowned jazz artist, Keiko Matsui electrified the sold-out audience at the Tin Pan in Richmond, VA on April 8th, 2019.

The performance opened with a lead in by her international band setting the stage for ‘Unshakeable’, a piece from her 28th recording, ‘Echo’. This was a lively piece that, and if one listened, had a little island (Reggae) flare. This was a perfect opening number because it allowed her to showcase the touring band, consisting of Jimmy Branly from Cuba on drums, JP Mourão from Brazil on guitar and Rico Belled from The Netherlands on bass.

After the applause subsided, Keiko addressed the crowd with a smile that would melt anyone’s heart. Her humor was obvious when she (correctly) pointed out that the show was sold-out and there was not an empty seat, despite the college event that was grabbing much of the state’s attention. On this night, all eyes and ears at The Tin Pan were on Keiko.

Even though Keiko was the headliner, she never shied away from giving her tour band credit. There were many opportunities throughout the performance for each member to share their talents with the audience, from Rico’s solos, to JP’s riffs, and even a little bare hand drum kit action by Jimmy.

As the night progressed Keiko told many of the stories behind the music she composed. The most touching (to this correspondent) was the music she had written after her youngest daughter said, “I love you Mom, forever forever”. When she played the piece, also titled ‘Forever Forever’, one could feel the joy that only a parent can feel when wrapped in the unconditional love of a child. The intimacy offered by the table seating at The Tin Pan was perfect for the ‘story behind the music’ performance Keiko offers.

Keiko spoke of the many influences in her music that reflect her vision of life and the world we live in. There are spiritual elements in much of her work. When she introduced ‘Return to Eternity’ from her newest album, we learned it was inspired by the realization that the soul that is granted us at birth must be returned to the root of the soul when we leave this earth.

Keiko’s music has blessed the jazz scene since the late 1980s. She has collaborated with greats such as Bob James and the late Miles Davis to name a couple. Listening to her music, it is apparent that not only is she wonderful at putting thoughts to melody, but she has a worldwide knowledge of music. Several of the pieces had noticeable influences from many different regional music styles. I am sure this correspondent missed a few, but on this night there was an obvious island influence (‘Unshakeable’) and Latin influence in ‘Casablanca’ from her 27th recording, ‘Journey to the Heart’; and in ‘Viva Life’ and  ‘Echo’ from her current album. During the performance of ‘Casablanca’, the audience was also introduced to the unique sound of a melodica, a breath powered keyboard.

Prior to her last set piece of the night she talked of her recent Eastern European tour (Russia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan), 31 days and 19 performances. International touring can be draining but the sharing of the music is uplifting. Her last set piece, ‘Viva Life’, was all about living life.

After the standing ovation, she asked, with a smile, “One more?” The answer was an obvious! “YES!”. She treated the audience to one of her best-known pieces, ‘Bridge over the Stars’ from her 1996 best selling album, Dream Walk. If you have never heard the tune, I recommend doing so with closed eyes… it is easy to imagine the feeling of looking down from above the stars, a true grand finale.

On a night that was to be dark and stormy, Keiko and her band brought energy to The Tin Pan with her music and words. She is indeed a performer that can capture one’s heart, mind, and ear.

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Set List

Moon Over Gotham
Spirit Dance
Marlin Club Blues
Forever Forever 
Moving On
Return to Eternity 
Viva Life

Encore Bridge Over the Stars

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Dave Pearson is based out of Richmond, VA by way of Hayward, WI. He has long had a passion for music. Growing up in rural Wisconsin, he rocked out to the likes of Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, and The Lettermen. Then, one Saturday night, being the rebel he was born to be, he caught an Alice Cooper interview (it may have been on The Midnight Special) and saw him perform, “Welcome to My Nightmare”. Dave was hooked on Rock and Roll (and many other genres as well). Dave has enjoyed (amateur) photography to some degree most of his adult life. Recently Dave started to apply his event photography skills in various music settings with success. He finds that photographing a performance gives him a much greater appreciation for the artist.