Simply Stunning original compositions performed solo. Critically acclaimed Michika Fukumori on thirteen moving solo piano tunes, which are conversations between the piano and Michika. On “Piano Images” she combines music from her favorite composers (Rodgers, Porter, Jobim) with her stunning original compositions…there is ‘one’ piece, “Oceans in the Sky” that is ‘four-hands’ (with Steve Kuhn) that lights up the program…
Incredible solo recording.
Michika Fukumori’s Piano Images (Summit Records) has the New Yorker playing some of the most beautiful solo piano of the year on her third CD after her 2004 Infinite Thoughts and 2016 Quality Time. She wrote eight of 13 and her fingers glide over the 88 keys like a fluttering butterfly, simmering in spots long enough to get hot but always moving, searching, sensitively swinging with inventive subtlety. The blues creep in but not a lot. She’s rhythmic and sly, teasing with a light touch before surprising with some staccato drama. She infuses her four-track “The Seasons” suite with lush romanticism for her Iga hometown in Japan where she lived until she was 18. “My Muse” is for her producer/mentor, pianist Steve Kuhn, who provides another two hands on his four-fisted “Oceans In The Sky.” Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Luiza” samba will tug at the heart-strings as will “Where Or When,” the 1937 Richard Rodgers show tune. Even Cole Porter’s 1944 “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” gets rescued from the dustbin of time. Piano Images is make-out music of the highest order, setting the scene for any successful seduction. Gentlemen, take note!
-GOLDMINE by Mike Greenblatt
MICHIKA FUKUMORI/Piano Images: The jazzy lady once again gives you all you need with just her and her piano. Going solo on a set of mostly originals can be daunting but she’s more than up for the challenge. A supremely enjoyable piano romp, these new tunes make themselves right at home in no time and become harder and harder to resist with each new playing. Well done.
-Midwest Record by Chris Spector
On her sweeping, emotionally riveting and engagingly impressionistic third album Piano Images, Japanese born, NYC based jazz pianist Michika Fukumori uses her instrument – and a very thoughtful and crafty set list of originals and Brazilian and Great American Songbook classics = to paint a beautiful, introspective self-portrait.
Fully embodying her statement that “music always lights up my life,” the multi-talented artist – who studied classical composition before embarking on a nearly two decade career in jazz – creates a unique series of moods, introducing us to her versatile style via lighthearted blues and swing before sharing a unique four track suite called “The Seasons,” in which she uses music to share a multitude of childhood memories of her hometown of Iga, Japan.
With a mixture of delight and melancholy, she spends the balance of the recording sharing her interpretations of standards by Richard Rodgers (“Where or When”), Cole Porter (“Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye”) and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Another key track is the haunting, dramatically rendered ballad “Oceans in the Sky,” penned by her mentor, Steve Kuhn, who produced her first two recordings. Here, the two engage in a powerful, four hand piano performance.
Piano Images is more than simply a collection of excellent originals and interpretations by Michika. It’s an intimate invitation to understand who she is, where she came from, what inspires her and, perhaps most importantly, why we should love her.
-Jonathan Widran, reviewer
Japanese-born, New York-based pianist Michika Fukumori’s first two albums—Infinite Thoughts (Key Click Records, 2004) and Quality Time (Summit Records, 2016)—found her comfortably ensconced in piano trio settings. That most time-honored of formats served her well on both, introducing and showcasing a player with a precision touch, sure sense of swing, and imaginative leanings. For this third date, Fukumori goes it alone. She explores the art of solo piano, using her own original music and classics from the likes of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Cole Porter, and Richard Rodgers as the lenses through which she views the 88 keys in front of her.
Piano Images opens on two standalone works—”Colors Of Blues,” Fukumori’s personalized distillation of the titular form and feeling, and “Into The New World,” a genial swinger with an unhurried attitude. Each serves as a story unto itself, but as a pair these pieces help to brand her as a solo pianist with solid technical resources, patient painting skills, and a fanciful if somewhat staid outlook. What immediately follows—”The Seasons,” a four-part suite calling to and drawing from Fukumori’s youth in her hometown of Iga, Japan—confirms what Fukumori reveals in those first glimpses. In a mere sixteen minutes she takes us on a yearlong journey filled with myriad emotions: “The Answer Is…(Winter)” blends wistful thoughts with sanguine signs, “The Story I Want To Tell You (Spring)” carries blooming aspirations in its lightly bounding steps, “The Days We Were Smiling (Summer)” takes a simple and direct route to a nostalgic nook, and “Tomorrow is Full Of Promises (Fall)” plays true to its name.
Slowly unwrapping Rodgers’ “Where Or When” at the album’s midpoint, Fukumori carries us from her own past to a more universal stop along life’s highway(s). Then she sets us firmly in the present with an alluring “Palco” (A Little Dancer),” a stroll through Jobim’s “Chovendo Na Roseira,” and a heartfelt “My Muse,” her dedication to mentor Steve Kuhn. That last number almost seems to carry a summoning spirit in its tides, as Kuhn, Fukumori’s longtime teacher and producer, then appears as a guest for a rippling and positively radiant four-handed take on his “Oceans In The Sky” that serves as the album’s clear high point. What remains—a sad-eyed “Luiza” and a concise “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye”—is simply a return to form. While Fukumori’s songcraft and execution is a tad reserved at times, there’s no doubting her skills and the depth of emotion presented in her playing . As Piano Images points out, this is a musician worth noting and knowing.
-Dan Bilawsky, AllAboutJazz.com
It is impressive how many young, Japanese, female jazz pianists with impressive talent have come along in recent years. Among them is MICHIKA FUKUMORI. Piano Images (Summit – 725) is her third album, and her first solo effort. What is immediately noticeable is her lovely touch and innate sense of swing. As you listen to Fukumori’s improvisations, you realize that this is a lady with wonderful imagination, a reality that is reinforced by her ability to compose melodies that are comfortable to hear the first time that they reach your ears. Nine of the thirteen selections on the program are original pieces, including a four part suite titled “The Seasons,” Fukumori’s way of expressing her memories of the four seasons as she experienced them in her hometown in Japan. When she explores the music of other composers as she does on Rodgers and Hart’s “Where or When,” Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” or two Jobim tunes, “Chovendo Na Rosiera” an “Luiza,” her interpretations genuinely sparkle. Those of you who enjoy solo jazz piano will be particularly taken with the artistry of Michika Fukumori.
-Joseph Lang, Jersey Jazz
Michika Fukumori, piano/composer. Steve Kuhn, producer/piano duet on cut #11.
Michika Fukumori has composed the first song called “Colors of Blues” and it exhibits admirable piano technique with a seemingly easy ability to use both hands in counterpoint and still keep perfect rhythm. Actually, that is no easy task. Her original composition was inspired by United States Blues, a music steeped in hard work and rooted in African American slavery. Ms. Fukumori explained:
“I learned how important the blues is to jazz after I moved to this country and I fell in love with the form. This is my dedication to this music.”
Right away, Fukumori establishes her love of melody. I want to sing along with her compositions even though I’ve never heard them before this moment. That is particularly true on the second cut titled, “Into the New World.” Michika Fukumori has composed nine of the thirteen tunes on this CD. She is a strong player and competent composer, which is brazenly clear on this solo recording. She needs no other instrument to sell her songs or make them beautiful. That raw talent she exudes needs no lipstick, rouge or pancake makeup to enhance it. There is natural brilliance to her playing and I am even more impressed with her composer abilities. Her left hand is busy playing memorable bass lines and holding the rhythm in place, while her right hand creates lovely melodies and improvises with tenderness and a deft touch. On the eleventh song, “Oceans in the Sky,” she combines talents with her mentor and producer, Steve Kuhn, who has written this song. They both play piano simultaneously to interpret this composition, using two sets of hands and 20 fingers. There is the feeling of rushing water, ocean waves and the forcefulness and intimidating independence that miles of water, with no land in sight, can represent.
Born in Mie, Japan, Michika Fukumori began studying piano at age three. Receiving her classical training at the Aichi Prefectual University of Fine Arts and Music, she soon was drawn to jazz and began working professionally in various Japanese jazz clubs. In 2000, Michika Fukumori moved to the United States and studied with two jazz icons at City College in New York; bassist Ron Carter and pianist extraordinaire, Geri Allen. She also began taking private lessons with Steve Kuhn, who has produced this recording for her. For the most part, this is peaceful music. It’s easy listening jazz and showcases the stellar talents of Michika Fukumori on piano.
-Musical Memoirs, Dee Dee McNeil
Pianist MICHIKA FUKUMORI is a great fan and student of Steve Kuhn’s and in fact Kuhn appears with her, in duo, on one track of her new release, PIANO IMAGES [Summit Records dcd725], a 8/6/14 recording.
Fukumori plays with a light but certain hand on the 13 tracks (a mix of standards and originals) here [54:31]. The exception to her quiet soft personal style appears on the opening track, her original “Colors Of Blues” which is a raggedy-funky-Monk-y piece and rather out of character with the rest of the program. This is a sensitive thoughtful piano excursion. The centerpiece of the program is a 4 sectioned “The Seasons”, not Vivaldi, but quite nice.
-Cadence Magazine by Robert Rusch
“At the heart of pianist Michika Fukumori’s first solo effort, Piano Images, is a four-piece piano cycle that sensitively portrays each seasonal time of the year. Drawing on her Japanese upbringing, light subtle touch and imaginative use of space and time Fukumori creates a suite with exquisite imagery.
A sense of yearning streaked with lovely melodic hopefulness begins “The Answer Is… (Winter)” signaling “The Story I Want to Tell You (Spring)”, a season that she fills with halting naïveté. “The Days We Were Smiling (Summer)” is a wistful remembrance decorated with pretty thematic improvisations while “Tomorrow Is Full Of Promises (Fall)”, given the pathos of her winter, is an ironically cheerful reminiscence.
In addition, Fukumori includes the blues, music from the film Billy Elliot and tunes from Antônio Carlos Jobim, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers and, most importantly, pianist Steve Kuhn as personal influences to round out the session. The latter, who produced the release, guests on a striking duo performance of his “Oceans in the Sky”. The funkiness of Fukumori’s original opener “Colors of the Blues” starkly contrasts with her thoughtfully evocative ballad “Into the New World” that follows. Both “Chovendo Na Roseira” and “Luiza” are original tributes to Jobim that sacrifice the composer’s Brazilian breeziness in favor of poignant melancholy while the classically informed “Palco (A Little Dancer)”, another original, has Billy Elliot gracefully pirouetting on stage.
Rodgers’ “Where or When” and Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” are given gently flowing takes. The former does not stray far from the familiar melody but tenderly caresses time and tempo to enhance the tune’s déjà vu aspect while the latter closes out the proceedings with a sinuous version of the standard. Fukumori’s previous two offerings were trios and while this solo effort misses some of that straightahead drive the result is a more personal and delightfully impressionistic approach.”
-New York City Jazz Record by Elliott Simon