Thursday, February 08, 2024

Kay-Ta Matsuno | "Distance"

Nearly four years ago, the word distance took on an entirely new and different meaning when the coronavirus pandemic forced the world to practice social distancing – i.e., maintain a “safe” gap between people. As the pandemic raged,  economic fear and uncertainty, divisive politics, and civil unrest also gripped the U.S., creating more “distance” between people. Contemporary jazz guitarist Kay-Ta Matsuno journaled his feelings, experiences and observations during this unprecedent period of isolation and turmoil into songs, writing and producing his third solo album, “Distance,” which was released by LCR Music. The title track, an exploration of ethereal jazz and melody, is the first single that will begin collecting playlist adds on February 12.

Recording in his home studio near Los Angeles, the Osaka, Japan-born Matsuno performed all the music and instrumentation heard on the ten-track “Distance” album with the exception of “Kraken” that includes drummer Channing Holmes. Known for his gifted guitar artistry in jazz, fusion, R&B, pop, classical, new age and Japanese music settings, Matsuno brings elements from his diverse repertoire to the project. The heart of the songs’ subject matters reflect what was happening throughout the world four years ago with a particular focus on what was happening in America at the time.

The album opens with “Distance,” which feels like an emotional journey guided by Matsuno’s reassuring acoustic guitar. Melding atmospheric new age nuances and contemporary jazz sensibilities, Matsuno delivers his thesis using riffs and runs etched with dazzling speed and technical brilliance.  

“The word distance means something completely different since the pandemic. It used to have a romantic/melancholic tone to it. But during the pandemic, no matter how much you want to come close to someone, you had to maintain six feet of distance from each other. You can see them, but you can’t touch them. The more you maintain that six feet of distance, the more strongly you realize how important we are to each other. Including the title track, the entire album is based on songs I wrote during the pandemic to stay positive, both as a person and as a musician,” said Matsuno.

Matsuno’s desire to find positivity through adversity becomes a sonic affirmation on “Hope Within,” offered in the form of the song’s luminous and rousing melody.

There were benefits inherent in the stay-at-home order issued at the onset of the pandemic, with the precipitous reduction in pollution and significantly improved air quality being just two. Matsuno noticed the cleansed and purified Los Angeles skylines, capturing the beauty in a jazz fusion meets neo classical composition titled “Smog-Free.”

“During the pandemic, the sky in Los Angeles was as clear as ever before because almost no cars were driving around. The contrast between the clear sky and the gloominess inside our hearts was quite interesting,” said Matsuno.

Amidst the pandemic, the climate in the U.S. took on another heated dimension after the beating death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. “Elbows & a Knee” musically memorializes that moment with a futuristic electronic contemporary jazz groove tinged with a country guitar twang and hip-hop turntable scratches. 

“The season of pandemic changed the meanings and sentiments of a lot of words. ‘Elbows’ became a word symbolizing friendship since we couldn’t shake hands with each other and we were told to bump elbows instead, and Derek Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd’s neck brought a lot of chaos to the entire world. To me, ‘Elbows & a Knee’ is a post-pandemic way of saying ‘love and hate.’ In this song, I mixed slide guitar, which represents country music, and an electronic beat inspired by N.W.A., representing hip-hop, finding a way to seamlessly merge with each other,” Matsuno explained.

The uncertainty of the pandemic era felt disjointed, disconnected and dystopian. Matsuno said that his song “‘Uncertainty’ represents the sentiment prevalent during the pandemic. You feel depressed, but when you see your own seven-year-old daughter having a blast communicating with people through a tablet, you start to feel like this world shouldn’t be so bad.” 

“Push It Back!” is a fast, frenetic fusion foray that Matsuno said he wrote “to shake off the gloom.”

On “Kraken,” the guitarist shifts his sights to the political chaos that inflamed the nation, culminating in the presidential election. The track is a frenzied rock and jazz fusion exposition, ignited by fiery electric guitar solos and licks that include snippets of the American National Anthem.

“The 2020 presidential election was a total nightmare. I have never had that many arguments with my colleagues before. In the middle of all the crazy tsunamis of information and news from TV, social media and daily conversations, I just had to write this song to let my thoughts out without using words. This song literally saved my sanity during that time,” shared Matsuno.   

Two of the original songs on the “Distance” album were written prior to the pandemic, but Matsuno included them in the setlist because he felt they fit the sound, feel or theme of the collection. The first is “Silky,” a compelling sonic collage of fusion, rock and new age textured by Matsuno’s impassioned electric and acoustic guitars. “Magic Hour” was written for his wedding fourteen years ago and recorded here for the first time.

“It would have been so difficult to go through this pandemic without family, so it felt appropriate to include this song (“Magic Hour”),” concluded Matsuno.

Near the end of the pandemic, Matsuno’s older sister passed away from heart failure. He remembers her on “Arabesque No. 1,” which closes the album.

“She used to play this piece by Debussy often on the piano in the living room. This is my way of commemorating her life.”

Matsuno is a first-call session and touring guitarist who has recorded and/or performed with R&B singers Lalah Hathaway, Jennifer Hudson, Jody Watley, Amerie and Chante Moore;  contemporary jazz artists Keiko Matsui, Jackiem Joyner and Michael Lington; and Japanese artists Senri Kawaguchi, Chikuzen Satoh, Junko Yagami, and Marlene. He released his solo debut in 2016 titled “Arrival,” which won the Best Jazz Instrumental Album statue at the Independent Music Awards and spawned his Billboard top 25 single, “Synch With Me.” Two years later, he won the Best Instrumental award for “Spring in Lviv” at the USA Songwriting Competition. In group settings, Matsuno’s classical crossover band Quattrosound was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award in the Best New Artist category in 2013. His current configuration, Kay-Ta Crypto String Society, performs throughout the US, Austria and Japan, the latter country being where they’ll tour again in July. On Valentine’s Day, Matsuno will join trumpeter/vocalist Ilya Serov for a concert in Mumbi, India. The guitarist will perform aboard the all-star Dave Koz Cruise this spring.


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