Being Guided By The Light
Release Date: February 23, 2024
Label: Jojo Records

Being Guided By The Light is the fifth album by pianist Mamiko Watanabe and Jojo Records debut. The representation of a musician in full flower, Watanabe plays the piano with grace and intensity, revealing her endless state of exploration. This trio date features Watanabe alongside heralded bassist Santi Debriano and legendary drummer Billy Hart. 

Watanabe’s sterling technique is most apparent on the tracks “Being Guided by the Light” and Atomic Space”, compositions that use the full range of her talent. “Pas de Trois” and “Peacocks” are lush and romantic, but also pensive and melancholy. The “Scene is Clean” demonstrates Mamiko at her most effervescent, with an aggressive interplay between the trio of Watanabe, Debriano, and Hart. “Nigeria”, a Debriano composition, illustrates the multi-generational connections. This is Mamiko Unbound, a tune that swings with a full-bodied tone and timber. “My Grandfather’s Clock” opens like a wedding song or a musical hymn, but, in the thrall of Mamiko’s left-hand ostinato, quickly becomes something more fully dimensional: Mamiko at her most improvisational. “Island Birdie” dips into the rhythms of the Caribbean, with a soundscape that is fun and joyous. Mamiko as an entertainer on a cruise ship. In many ways, this record is a further celebration of the joys of collaboration: “This is why I called the album “Being Guided by the Light,” the pianist reflects. “It signifies to me that my search and development in music is constantly seeking new light.” 

Mamiko is joined by two revered masters of jazz with Billy Hart on drums and Santi Debriano on bass and is filled with praise for this collaboration “I was so grateful for this recording opportunity with Billy. His sound touched my soul. The way Santi Debriano makes the groove on my compositions are always exactly the way I want. I’ve been learning from Santi the limitless creativity through rhythm, phrasing and communicating as a group.” 

NEA Jazz Master Hart, who has played alongside virtually every jazz great including Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Pharoah Sanders and more over his seven-decade career, says of Mamiko: “She is one of the very best I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing with.” 

Born in Fukuoka, Japan, Watanabe began playing the piano at the age of four under instruction at the Yamaha School of Music. As she grew older, her talent blossomed. Her inspiration was Tashiko Akiyoshi, the boundary-smashing Japanese-American pianist, composer, arranger, and bandleader who wrote powerful, complex compositions that ran the gamut from the mainstream to the avant-garde. In 1999, Mamiko received a scholarship to attend the Berklee College of Music where she received several awards for Jazz piano and Composition. She was also a semi-finalist at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival Solo Piano Competition both in 2002 and 2003. She has toured Germany, Italy and Japan and has performed with jazz greats such as Joe Lovano, Kevin Mahogany and Bobby McFerrin while in college. After moving to New York, she performed at notable venues including Blue Note, Dizzy's Club at the Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, Jazz at the Kitano and more. She has also appeared and featured at the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, Super Jazz Ashdod Festival in Israel and Penang World Music Festival in Malaysia. 

Her debut album One After Another was released in 2005. Since then, she has released three others, with her most recent the Flying Without Wings, out in 2018. With Being Guided By The Light, the pianist enters a new phase, and joins the echelons of great jazz pianists. 

Being Guided By The Light is the latest release from Jojo Records, which was established in 2021. Created by jazz musician Simon Belelty, Jojo strives to provide listeners with a dazzling and almost mystical experience. With an emphasis on high quality audio and vinyl, the catalog is carefully curated by the most skilled technicians and producers, and leavened with passion. 

"Its sound touched my soul." Check out the full review here.

Check out the full review in Russian here.

"In this catchy recording, pianist Watanabe searches for the light that will encourage her in her musical search and development." Check out the full review here.

"If you love gracefully intense jazz piano as much as I do, you'll fall in love with Mamiko's splendid performances just as immediately as I did." Check out the full review here.

Check out this feature on the editors playlist here.

"The representation of a musician in full flower, Watanabe plays the piano with grace and intensity, revealing her endless state of exploration." Check out the full review here.

"After hearing the title track, Atomic Space and The Music Game, I wanted more." Check out the full review here.

"...Watanabe has an impressive technique and an elegant, unhurried yet flowing playing..." Check out the full review in Turkish here.

"Following an assertive intro, the trio pursues a more romantic route that sees the journey warmed by a soulfully swinging pulse and a general sense of uplift. Certainly one of the album's high points is the trio's reading of Rowles' haunting ballad “The Peacocks,” a modern jazz classic if there ever was one." Check out the full review here.

"The leader’s “Atomic Space” is the most esoteric, if not ethereal, tune, from the session, with the trio coming together as a unit through numerous twists and turns; it is the album’s longest piece and suggests future avenues and potential for Watanabe’s composing skills." Check out the full review here.

"The trio is the most magical of musical contexts; whether it’s Hendrix, Jarrett, or The Police." Check out the full review here.