How often is music the vehicle that takes us there? So to that, we ride with the talent of Keiko Matsui to the "Walls of Akendora." Logistically fictitious, however, very real within the music sheets of Ms. Matsui, it is the dynamic and innovative side that challenges this musical aficionado’s acceptance to change. "Walls of Akendora" is a place one needs to visit and often for the resonance is exceptional, spiritually and musically.
Through her keyboards, Ms. Matsui explores her inner talent, that which branches outside her normal scope. The ivory resonance is without flaw or misdirection. Arrangements are fresh and eclectic, and the overall project is a profoundly mature innocence musically. "Walls of Akendora" is one of Ms. Matsui’s finest hours.
Go through the walls and explore her essence as between sets, Keiko Matsui expands on her music and her philosophy. As one will find, Ms. Matsui and her music are mirrors unto themselves.
JazzReview: Keiko, in setting the ambiance for this interview, explain if you will how your Eastern philosophies, along with the melodies you compose, intermingle and compliment each other.
Keiko Matsui: I was born and raised in Japan. I believe that spirituality this is a very important elements to my music. I also believe that all things have a spirit--things like forests, mountains, and rivers. I always bow to the piano after practicing as a show of animism, but basically when I compose I just sit in front of the piano and wait to receive/hear a melody from somewhere above. It is like communicating with the universe. Going through this process makes me think of where we come from and why do we need music.
JazzReview: When launching a new concept/direction for your next project, what route do you take? What do you focus on first?
Keiko Matsui: For me, [the] composing part is very important. I always try to spend enough time to collect motives and melodies before selecting the best ten for an album, and naturally follow the direction where those tunes take me. In this particular album, I wanted to have a different depth and at the same time, I wanted to express some of the energy/passion from the live performance.
JazzReview: Does your personal life have an effect on the mood of the pieces you work on? Does your initial direction stay always in focus?
Keiko Matsui: I think so. Looking back after the album is completed, I feel the album becomes a reflection of my thoughts, almost like a mirror. Several kinds of emotions are reflected on the sound of the piano--emotions like sadness, happiness and gratitude, amongst others.
JazzReview: Touching upon the reality of "Walls of Akendora," Fictional? Yes! However, why and how did you come to create such a place?
Keiko Matsui: Our world is becoming more and more difficult, however, I have been fortunate to be able to travel to many countries performing my music. At every concert, I could feel a sense of oneness with the audience. Music transcends history, religion and things that create conflict among people. It is in this imaginary city "Akendora" that all animated beings are in harmony. All religions and cultures are also in harmony. Anybody can visit this place, see beautiful scenery and have an unforgettable experience. I hope people can enjoy the journey to "Akendora" listening to my music.
JazzReview: Called in some circles as a personal piece, "Walls of Akendora" is based on inspiration. Is it fair to say that is common with all the cuts on the album and if not, explain?
Keiko Matsui: Yes, most of the song titles carry my memories.
JazzReview: It has been quoted as a "daring" project, out of the norm if you will, unleashing a stronger, more vibrant Keiko Matsui. Do you agree and please touch upon this perception?
Keiko Matsui: Maybe so, but it is not a conscious effort to do so. I feel it is more of a natural progression in my music. Of course, some tunes carry classical elements that make them very familiar to some fans. But perhaps it is because of the selections of the tunes you can feel a more lively and vibrant energy from the album. I am glad that people notice my music continues to evolve as most of life does. I am glad to know that after a long career, my music continues to touch and have a good influence on people
JazzReview: Classical improvisation interesting yet very distinguishable throughout your work on this effort. Was this the original concept for the compositions and arrangements?
Keiko Matsui: I don't particularly plan for that, but these classical elements allow for some melodies in the same track to be expressed very differently. It depends on how you can express the silence between notes. When I improvise, sometimes it is like composing every moment. It also allows me to express myself beyond bars and rhythms. Sometimes I feel like I am playing in different dimensions. It is a very mystical process.
JazzReview: Let’s talk about two very special pieces--first the title cut, "Walls of Akendora."
Keiko Matsui: This track is important as it represents this imaginary city in my mind, with all the places and emotions that I explained earlier.
JazzReview: Now lets go on to something a bit different such as the elegance in jazz displayed in "Blue Butterfly."
Keiko Matsui: Blue Butterfly shows my classical and jazz influences at its best. I imagine life is like a dancing butterfly, and what better place for a butterfly to live than within the walls of Akendora?
JazzReview: Was the statement you wanted to make with this project achieved?
Keiko Matsui: For the most part it has. But I think it is very important in order to continue making a statement, that we have to keep on performing these tunes live for our fans in as many places as possible.
JazzReview: Change is good, but often times too late. Now looking back, is there anything different you would do?
Keiko Matsui: Changes in my music do not usually come out of a conscious process. I do not compose or perform thinking about the latest trends. I always naturally do my best with my compositions and work hard, and put [in] my heart and soul. I am always grateful to be able to connect with many people through my music.
JazzReview: Is there a specific cut that makes you the artist stand up and takes notice of how unique it came out?
Keiko Matsui: All the tunes are very special to me and feel very natural playing in them.
JazzReview: Your global success is well documented. Back in 1987 when your solo debut "A Drop of Water" first hit the shelves, did you ever think you would have reached a pinnacle like this?
Keiko Matsui: I never imagined that when I released my first album I would become the artist that I am today. I would have never imagined that so many people around the world would hear my music, and that I would get to travel to so many countries performing my music, I am especially happy of this because I always get to perform my original compositions. I can really feel that Keiko Matsui is making a difference with her music.
JazzReview: If there were ever a venue you would feel most comfortable playing in, where would it be?
Keiko Matsui: I enjoy performing at every place we play. I particularly like performing in South Africa and the audience is always very enthusiastic. Performing in the U.S. is always so nice. It is like seeing old family since I started my career here and have some very loyal and old fans. Performing in Japan has been a very interesting experience as it is very different from the U.S. or most places in the world, but I enjoy performing in front of my family and childhood friends. That makes it very special.
JazzReview: In what way has your music enhanced over the years?
Keiko Matsui: I am not sure as I do not think about it much, but I think that throughout the years, it has become a more definite style, almost a Keiko-style of music. I can feel that my relationship with the piano is stronger.
JazzReview: Do you prefer recording or playing live? Are there differences from one to the other as to style?
Keiko Matsui: I enjoy both. It is like communicating with the universe, but especially live concerts. [It] is like a ritual or ceremony for me. I can really feel I share a time and space together with the audience and we put our minds together through music.
JazzReview: What would be your next concept as to a recording direction?
Keiko Matsui: I do not [know] yet, but I am very excited imagining the next step.
JazzReview: Conceive the signature performance by Keiko. What would it be and who would be involved?
Keiko Matsui: I would like to dedicate a concert under a full moon with special guests Sting and Yo Yo Ma.
JazzReview: Driven by her heart and beliefs, I find Ms. Matsui to be simple on the cover, however, complex within. Her music is a catalyst that allows the listener to go where their mind needs to a vehicle if you will, that transports the listener’s existing moment to that desired inner setting. From the onset of her career, the goal seems simply to create harmony in all aspects of life through music that identifies--a personal goal that has been attained numerous times through her arrangements and compositions.
There are no barriers in this delightfully balanced work called "Walls of Akendora." Thusly, open your mind to the talent and music of Keiko Matsui. Travel the ivory pathway to some of the most spiritual, emotional, and insightful jazz compositions you will experience. Years have proven her talent; the future will define her significance!