Music Akiko Yano Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture
Akiko Yano walked demurely on to the stage of the Barbican Hall on Friday evening clutching her music, put it down flat on top of the Steinway grand, gave us a nice smile and launched into two delicately syncopated songs in Japanese. Then she spoke, in fairly good, though halting, American-English, like a method actor whose feelings are too strong for words, stumbling through the conventional vote of thanks - how surprised she was at her reception at the Jazz Cafe last year, and how nice it was to see so many at this, her first big London concert.

She paused, uncertain, and told us a strange thing was happening: stage fright. She'd better not talk, she decided, though of course she did after not very long, and was actually quite funny. Not terribly informative, unfortunately, to the minority of us who couldn't understand the Japanese of most of her songs. After the fourth or fifth, she asked if we'd like another sad song, although I wasn't aware the one we'd just heard was particularly sad: wistful or elegantly stoic, maybe. She told us she liked fishing, although it wasn't clear what that was apropos of.

Her voice was small, high and penetrating, but in a song she thought might have been sung by the Everly Brothers, or the Righteous Brothers, or some other brothers, the English words brought her range lower, and softened her tone. Her piano-playing was a delight - neat, constantly varied in emphasis, and strongly rhythmic.

I wouldn't have minded hearing a bit more of it alone, not just the meandering links. "It takes a lot of time to find the key," she confided. But the songs, some her own, one by her husband, Ryuchi Saka- moto, were all beautifully made, with crisp, decisive endings even when left open; especially when left open. The words of one were different inflections of "Yeah", with a short Japanese refrain, neatly demonstrating her expressive flexibility.

Yano plugged her new CD, Piano Nightly, which has just been released here, and said that, though life was cruel, she wanted to express its lighter side. That about sums it up.

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