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  • Jonathan Widran


It’s so delightfully rare to find a young, emerging artist so confident and sure of their talent and artistry that they make nearly every track of their debut an unexpected adventure that draws the listener into one mood and vibe before darting off the proverbial beaten path into fresh arenas of melodic and harmonic discovery.

That’s the experience openminded listeners will have checking out the remarkably eclectic, soul stirring jazz fusion (featuring a string quartet, electric guitar, organ and vibraphone) on Neon, the debut EP from Berklee grad Arina Fujiwara, who recently earned her Master of Music at the Manhattan School of Music.

The pianist sets the tone on the jazz waltz opener “Yuki Ga Furu,” which begins and wraps with the string quartet and explores some fascinating improvisational territory in between. She then introduces a Japanese cultural staple – her unique arrangement of the simple, lyrical children’s song “Hotaru Koi” – duetting gracefully with the quartet. The tune then booms, bustles and dramatically builds into a jazz/blues cooker, with Arina firing up the organ energy on all cylinders while drummer Mikkel Blæsild Vuust rocks the groove. Brad Kang fires his way into the mix with a blazing distorted electric guitar solo, almost giving the piece an intoxicating cacophonous feeling.

She begins the title track with a sweet contemplative solo piano melody before the quartet sweeps in and the tune brings on a moody, haunting energy with a the swirl and sway of piano, violin and the hypnotic vibraphone of Vid Jamnik. That intuitive, conversational piano and vibes synergy is also the hallmark of her lush, low key ballad “Komorebi,” perhaps the most mainstream (and definitely the most chill) piece in the set. Arina follows the whimsically charming, playfully swinging “Vol 1” (which features an edgy yet jazzy-melodic Kang solo) with an inspired, often dark and intense, improvisational solo piano twist on Scott Joplin’s timeless “Maple Leaf Rag.”


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