ri Yamamoto has established herself as one of the city’s most creative and original pianists and composers since moving to New York in 1995. She performs regularly with her own trio, and often appears with some of jazz’s most celebrated artists. Legendary musician Herbie Hancock has said, “My hat’s off to her… already she’s found her own voice.”
For the past six years, Eri’s trio with David Ambrosio, bass; and Ikuo Takeuchi, drums; has been appearing regularly at the historic jazz club, Arthur’s Tavern in New York’s Greenwich Village; and at other venues throughout the city, the US and Europe. Since 2001 she has been playing major clubs and concert halls in her native Japan. She has released three critically acclaimed CD’s as a leader, and her new recording, “Cobalt Blue,” is due out this spring on the Thirsty Ear label.
Eri was born in Osaka, Japan, and began playing classical piano at age three. She started writing music when only eight years old, and studied voice, viola, and composition through her high school and college years. In 1995, she visited New York for the first time, and by chance heard Tommy Flanagan performing. It was her first experience of a jazz piano trio, and she was so inspired that she decided on the spot that she would move to New York City and dedicate herself to this music.
Later that year, Eri entered the New School University’s prestigious jazz program, where she studied with Junior Mance, LeeAnn Ledgerwood, and Reggie Workman. While still in school, she played many gigs around New York. In 1999 she started playing regularly at the Avenue B Social Club, a popular spot among jazz musicians in the East Village. There she developed a musical friendship with fellow pianist Matthew Shipp.
She has been performing regularly with William Parker and Daniel Carter, and appears on Parker’s trio CD, “Luc’s Lantern,” for which she has been favorably singled out in many reviews. She has also worked with such musical luminaries as Ron McClure, Andy McKee, Christopher Dean Sullivan and Michael T. A. Thompson.
Eri Yamamoto Trio
Up & Coming
How long does it take to become a great jazz musician? Would you believe five and a half years? That would seem to be the case with Eri Yamamoto, a 32-year-old Japanese pianist who abandoned a budding classical career half a decade ago to pursue jazz studies at the New School. Yamamoto had no jazz background whatsoever when she arrived in New York from Kyoto—something I can personally attest to, having heard her stumble through standards some years back at the Loisaida bar that is now Manitoba’s. Saloon din tended to drown out Yamamoto’s trio until she started pulling out her originals; the attentive silence that greeted them clued me in that fresh ideas were on the way. Yamamoto’s maturity is instantly evident on the title cut/opener of Up & Coming, her self-produced debut. The deceptively simple melody line demands perfect timing, and Yamamoto raises the degree of difficulty by upending it with a bridge in modified waltz-time. The way this impacts her solo is particularly breathtaking: On one chorus, she applies single-note lines reminiscent of Lennie Tristano; next, she alternates running trills with off-kilter phrases; and finally just before a bass solo by John Graham Davis—she slides back and forth across drummer Ikuo Takeichi’s supple pulse.
And yet that’s only a small sampling of the pianist’s breadth and economy. The five originals included here are demonstrate an extraordinarily rich compositional sensibility—to say nothing of a delicate touch—and what’s most impressive is how they outpace Yamamoto’s takes on classics like Miles Davis’s “All Blues” and Vincent Youmans’s “Without a Song.” I haven’t caught Yamamoto’s trio since it took up residence in the Village at Arthur’s Tavern two years ago, but if the album is any indication, the time she’s spent at the rambunctious watering hole has taught her how familiarity combined with subtlety can move a crowd. That understanding is crucial for any musician hoping to become a great player as quickly as she has. Available at www.eriyamamoto.com.
—K. Leander William