By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Altair & Vega
First, a caveat: Pianists Bob James and Keiko Matsui, though outstanding musicians, are not swingers. Reviewers and fans sometimes use terms like pop, smooth-jazz, hip-hop, fusion, contemporary, crossover or classically influenced, but whatever you call it, such music won’t make you groove or snap your fingers. That said, both James and Matsui are master artists, and both have produced — or contributed to — huge discographies.
James, born in 1932, became recognized in the mid-’70s when he released Nautilus and Westchester Lady. During that same period, he composed “Angela,” the theme song for the TV show Taxi. In 1981 he earned a Grammy Award, with Earl Klugh, for their One on One release. James and David Sanborn then shared a Grammy in 1986, for their album Double Vision.
Matsui — born Keiko Doi, in 1963, in Tokyo — began to play classical piano at age 5; she became interested in jazz in junior high school. She graduated at the top of her class at the Yamaha Music Foundation, which hired her to record with its jazz fusion group, Cosmos; she subsequently worked on seven albums with them. Yamaha then sent her to the United States to record an album, where she met and married Kazu Matsui, who produced the project. She subsequently released more than two dozen solo albums, and has been part of numerous compilations with other artists and orchestras.
Altair & Vega is Keiko Matsui’s most recent effort, and her second duet album with James; it follows 2000’s Dancing on the Water. Their duet technique utilizes only one piano; they sit side by side, on the same bench. At times, they switch positions between the treble and bass keyboard. This album package contains both a CD and DVD; the former consists of six original compositions and one “rework” — the familiar “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” chorale From Bach’s Cantata BWV 147 — while the latter features half a dozen originals and the old pop standard “The Touch of Your Lips.”
As already noted, it isn’t straight-ahead — or any other relative of jazz — but it’s all marvelous music. You’ll be mesmerized.