Keiko Matsui album review: ‘Soul Quest’

Singer Keiko Matsui brings on a who’s who of jazz musicians to contribute to “Soul Quest,” her 24th American album. (Photo by Sandrine Lee)

KEIKO MATSUI

“Soul Quest”

Kindred spirits: Hiroshima, Fourplay,
Jeff Lorber

Show: Saturday at the Birchmere.
Show starts at 7:30 p.m. 703-549-7500. www.birchmere.com. $39.50.

If you asked Japanese keyboardist/composer Keiko Matusi what makes her 24th American album, “Soul Quest,” stand apart, she’d probably respond by dropping a dozen names.

After all, the album is something of an all-star contemporary-jazz session. Matsui’s notable guests include guitarist Chuck Loeb, bassists Marcus Miller and Will Lee, saxophonist Kirk Whalum and drummer Narada Michael Walden. There’s something — or someone — here to suit just about any smooth-jazz taste.

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Loeb and Walden also contribute tunes, but Matsui is responsible for most of the music. Fans of her signature lyricism and warm harmonies won’t be disappointed, yet the album’s highlights often allow enough space for Matsui to fluidly improvise and her collaborators to distinguish themselves in both subtle and vibrant ways. As a result, “Soul Quest” isn’t marred by that certain sameness that occasionally undermines Matsui’s recordings. And although she may not have arranged the music with each collaborator in mind, the album’s highlights swiftly reveal a winning chemistry. As “A Night with Cha Cha” and “Antartica: A Call to Action” illustrate, the tunes also are colorfully varied in mood and tempo, which is another reason the lulls never pose a significant problem.

Given the A-list lineup, no one should be surprised if “Soul Quest” turns out to be among Matsui’s most popular releases. But it’s also one of her most accomplished and appealing efforts.

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