There's no danger of forgetting Keiko Matsui is the Queen of Smooth Jazz. Her new CD is plastered with a sticker trumpeting her as the winner of the Best Female Artist by the Oasis Jazz Awards. The only problem is Matsui really doesn't play jazz anymore. Since the release of 1996's "Dreamwalk" Matsui has moved closer into New Age riffs and away from jazz improvisation and soloing.
Matsui will always be a fantastic pianist, but her albums, while tasteful have sunk into a dull sameness. Her "band" has stripped down into a sparse trio of Matsui, Derek Nakomoto on synthesisers, and husband/producer Kazu Matsui on shakuhachi. Keiko has moved away from the saxophones, guitars, guest vocalists and artists of her earlier work, but this new CD proves less isn't more, it's just less.
"Deep Blue" is Matsui's 12th album, but it's a low energy, slumbering affair. Matsui's move to Narada Records seems like a natural move as her transition from jazz into New Age is now complete. You can't be upset over this metamorphosis as Matsui has been drifing into this direction for over five years now. But "Deep Blue" is too cautious and restrained and while it's always pleasant, it's never engaging. It doesn't swing. It doesn't bop. It kind of just buzzes inoffensively through your stereo for 40 minutes and then fades away.
You won't be humming any of the songs an hour later, that's for sure.