Blue Note Records has put to creative use its worldwide connections for introducing outstanding jazz talent from other parts of the world besides the United States, providing artists with much greater exposure than otherwise would have been possible. Bruce Lundvall, president of Blue Note Records, did that for Gonzalo Rubalcaba when the pianist lived in Cuba, as Lundvall found a way to handle the licensing of Rubalcaba’s music through the Japanese corporate affiliate, Toshiba EMI, in spite of the ban that the United States on commerce with Cuba. And now, Blue Note has brought to the attention of jazz listeners a prodigy from Japan, 17-year-old Takashi Matsunaga, who signed with Toshiba EMI at the age of 15. As a division of EMI, Blue Note is marketing and distributing Takashi’s first worldwide release, Storm Zone.
The unspoken temptation among critics is to patronize young talent, generously remarking about the artist’s "potential." However, Takashi arrives with his own thoughts about human experience, expressed through his music, and his technique, influenced by Chick Corea’s and Michel Petrucciani’s, is his own as well. So, the fairest way to evaluate, and to enjoy, Takashi’s talent is to listen to Storm Zone
without reading the liner notes or looking at the photographs, instead appreciating his work solely on its artistic merit.
And that kind of merit is abundant on Storm Zone.
After the rather dramatic introduction of "Southern Cross," Takashi settles into a flamenco-like 6/8 theme that, it seems, was written the day before the recording session. Takashi’s affinity for unconventional meters continues on the next track, "Moko-Moko," which features drummer Junji Hirose executing the technique described in the title of the composition--a soft thumping by the mallet. But just as interesting is Takashi’s development of the meter which shortens the eleventh measure by two beats, leaving the remaining two beats of exclamation followed by four bars of vamp. The offsetting of the listener’s expectations, and the tightness of the trio in playing the rhythm that Takashi devised, create a recurring surprise throughout the song that otherwise is underplayed for suspenseful effect.
As Takashi’s trio proceeds through all of the tracks, the cumulative impression is one of an empathetic trio led by a determined pianist whose aesthetics lead him to write music anchored by his concerns for humanity, such as the dolorous "The World In Sorrow" inspired by the chaos in Iraq, and his impressions from nature, such as his re-creation of the sense of quiet and ceaselessness felt in the presence of "The Do-Ton-Bori River."
As if refusing to remain in the same style throughout the CD, the trio concludes with a fierce blues, leaving no doubt that Takashi can swing as the hard as professional musicians, say, three times his age. While the pianist based the blues on his observations of whales’ spouting of water and low-toned cries, Takashi added a sense of alarm to the blues when indeed an alarm went off during a power failure at rehearsal.
With an acute sense of observation and diligent attention to technique, Takashi, given continued distribution and broad awareness, can be expected to merge his social concerns and naturalistic awareness with the music he creates as it reaches great emotional depths and technical excellence.