Nothing hurt the new age artists and their market more than the advent of smooth jazz. When smooth jazzers took the kind of music new agers had been creating and gave it a backbeat, along with obvious R&B sentimentality, sales of new age music dropped off the radar. A few of the more well-known new age musicians have survived, such as David Lanz, but in order to do so they moved their music more towards the light R&B stylings, smooth jazzers grew and cultivated. Another new ager who has survived this market shift is keyboardist and composer Keiko Matsui.
The Road is Matsui's first new recording in four years and the second she's produced by herself. As on her last recording, where she brought in smooth jazzers to help lend their name recognition to the product, she again brings in some heavy hitters. This time, however, she brings in fewer, enlisting only Kirk Whalum, Jackiem Joyner and sometime smooth jazzer Richard Bona.
What she does, instead, is give her music a bit of a harder feel and drive than much of her past music. Recruiting master drummer/percussionist Vinny Colaiuta to play on a few cuts was brilliant. His ability to lay back and allow Keiko's melodies to dominate, while at the same time punching up the rhythmic sound a bit, pays off in helping her create one of her most rhythmically oriented recordings ever.
Colaiuta is there on the first track, "Secret Pond," which melds the atmospherics her fans have come to expect with an upfront percussive beat driven verve and oomph we don't normally associate with Matsui. His masterful groove feel also takes the average composition "Awakening" and turn it into something special and he absolutely goes for broke on "Affirmation."
Even though it's MB Gordy handling drums on "Bohemian Concerto," this track demonstrates just how far Matsui is moving towards smooth jazz. This Trans-Siberian Orchestra-ish composition has a not only a hard driving backbeat, but also with the addition of a Flamenco guitarist in Alberto De Almar and accordionist Frank Marooco, Spanish touches.
Perhaps most surprising is the heavily jazz tinged rhythmic arrangement given to "Embrace & Surrender." One can't help but hear the influence of Matsui's work with the great Bob James in this mid/down tempo obviously jazz-inspired composition. James Hara's guitar and Reggie Hamilton's bass make this song feel like it could have come off any of the albums James did with guitarist Earl Klugh.
What this recording melts down into is Matsui's most genre ambitious recording to date. New agers will still find all of the thin melodic sounds they've expected from Matsui's work in the past, but now with a deep depth of rhythmic punctuation that this time might also attract some of the smooth jazz and chill crowd.