The seemingly unlikely pairing of Japanese-born keyboardist, composer and producer Keiko Matsui with guitarist-composer Al Di Meola at Miami Beach’s New World Center on Friday may raise some fans’ eyebrows.
Matsui’s music often has a delicate, spiritual undertone as it straddles the lines between Smooth Jazz, New Age and World Music. Di Meola, who in recent years has turned to World Music, both as a soloist and with his group World Sinfonia, remains for many the ultimate guitar hero of loud, flashy, electric jazz-rock fusion.
“Actually my music has very different feelings. It can be very spiritual but sometimes, especially in the concerts, it really rocks,” Matsui says with a chuckle in a phone interview from California. “Or it can be jazzy or classical or maybe more World Music. For me, music has no borders.
“And I have been working with acoustic and electric guitars a lot. But yes, I’m really curious, too, about how it’s going to work out,” she says, breaking into laughter. “Of course I’ve known and admired Al’s music for a long time, but this is the first time we will play together, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Di Meola became, almost literally, an overnight star in the 1970s as the dazzling guitar slinger with pianist Chick Corea’s group Return to Forever before embarking on a successful solo career. Inspired in part by his friendship with Astor Piazzolla, he formed the mainly acoustic World Sinfonia in 1991, exploring a broad musical arc from Piazzolla’s tango to music from Brazil, North Africa and the Caribbean. His most recent project, All Your Life, finds the guitarist revisiting 14 songs by The Beatles.
For Matsui, the concert will also be an opportunity to celebrate her 25-year U.S. career, play early hits and offer a glimpse of her next album, slated for release in late July.
Her most recent albums have marked a change for Matsui. She took control of her own productions after divorcing her long-time producer-husband, Kazu Matsui, switching labels and management. With key contributions from South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela on Moyo: Heart & Soul (2007) and Cameroonian bassist, singer and composer Richard Bona on The Road …, her music took on distinct African tinges.
It was not an entirely new element for Matsui, who is active with United Nations World Food Program efforts in Africa. As she sees it, her most recent albums are simply “a continuation of my work but with different collaborators. For me, writing music is a way of expressing spirituality and emotion, and the concert experience is an important way of communicating.”
She recorded her forthcoming CD in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York with, among others, drummer and producer Narada Michael Walden and guitarist and producer Chuck Loeb.
“I don’t want to say too much before people listen to it.” She says. “But I’m really excited about it. It’s called Soul Quest. It’s the 24th album in my career and is different [from the previous two] but in a different way,” suggesting perhaps fewer World Music elements.
The Miami Beach show, she says, “will be an opportunity to premiere one or two of the new songs.”
Over the years, Matsui has drawn from wildly disparate sources including Japanese folk music, European classical music, pop jazz and even flamenco and tango.
“I don’t care about labels,” she says. “Whatever people want to call it, as long as they realize it is Keiko’s music, that’s great. I put my soul in it and I hope we connect with each other spiritually. That’s my mission. So I don’t mind if people say that’s jazz or New Age or whatever. I just hope my music can reach people.”