Fusion/new age keyboard player Keiko Matsui grew up in Tokyo and took her first piano lesson at the age of five. Influenced by Stevie Wonder and Rachmaninov as well as early fusion masters Maurice Jarre and Chick Corea, Matsui began composing while in junior high but studied children's culture at the Japan Women's University (Nihon Joshidaigaku). She moved to the Yamaha Music Foundation in Tokyo after graduation and formed Cosmos, recording four albums with the new age group. Her first album as a leader, 1987's A Drop of Water, was released in the U.S. two years after the fact on Passport. The LP also featured her touring partner and husband, shakuhachi player Kazu Matsui, and was financed with their honeymoon money.
Keiko Matsui's last album, 2000s Whisper From the Mirror, was picked up and reissued by the Narada label in 2001, and Narada is also releasing her 12th album, Deep Blue. It's an appropriate match-up for the Japanese pianist, since Narada is known primarily as a new age label, and, though her records are being released on its Narada Jazz imprint, "new age" is actually the best category to place her in. From the start of her career, Matsui has been shelved under "jazz," but that has always been more a marketing ploy than anything else, and never more so than on Deep Blue. Her compositions are melodic tunes, many of which sound like songs without lyrics, while others seem like soundtrack excerpts from a film not yet made.
For those who like a little mysticism and classical influence in their smooth jazz, Japanese-born composer and keyboardist Keiko Matsui has long been the ticket. She was Billboard's number one Independent Contemporary Jazz Artist in 1997 and is the top New Adult Contemporary female instrumentalist of her time. In the early days (she's up to 14 albums now), Matsui did it with a mix of thunderous film score-like sweeps, elegant and jazzy piano command, and a guest sax solo here and there to score some radio hits. On The Ring, she continues her recent trend of all those same elements and gorgeous melodies without concern for pop airplay considerations.
Keiko Matsui is the Stevie Nicks of contemporary jazz. In her photos, she always appears pale, out of a mist, like a fairy goddess or angel. Her creative and long popular blend of classical piano, aggressive jazz/funk, orchestral grandeur, and sonic elements from her native Japan allows her to create both poignant ballads and more aggressive fusion statements. Over the course of her last few albums, Matsui's Lindsey Buckingham – always at her side, pushing her performance harder and higher – has been seductive saxman Paul Taylor. On this ethereal mind trip, Full Moon and the Shrine (Countdown/Unity), she doesn't let Taylor stray too far.