Japanese composer/keyboardist Keiko Matsui has been blending Eastern mysticism with playful melodies since the mid-'80s, often helped by saxophonists who've made her distinctive, angelic twists palatable to jazz radio. However, on Whisper From the Mirror she moves away from commercial considerations to create one of her most artistic and spiritually satisfying works.
Keeping her focus almost exclusively on the piano, Matsui employs arranger Derek Nakamoto's dreamy atmospheres into her gentle reflections and occasional bursts of wild, classically-influenced improvisations.
Most interesting are the cuts where Matsui switches moods halfway through. Though the title track (RealAudio excerpt) begins with elegant piano drifting over a dramatic orchestral swell, things shift suddenly into a punchy tribal groove with percussive, upper-register piano improvisations that swirl around as if searching for a higher spirit.
"Between the Moons" (RealAudio excerpt) starts with murky synths and a simple swaying melody before taking a sharp left turn into darting piano and a dense drum machine pattern.
The closest Matsui comes to her playful brand of pop-jazz is "Savanna, No Problem" (RealAudio excerpt), which features David Benoittype flourishes and an overall angst-free sensibility.
The unique closer, "Ever After," is a classically inspired four-hand piano duet with Bob James that rises from mellow point-counterpoint segments into dramatic improvisations, with the two players egging each other on.