JAZU: Jazz from Japan. Review. Dark Eyes

akiko - Dark Eyes

Universal – POCS-1065 – 2012

akiko: voice

Brian Coogan: piano, organ

Brian O’ Connell: clarinet

Chai-Chii Sisters: vocals

Craig Klein: trombone

Ed Anderson: trumpet

Eric Bolivar: drum, washboard

Gerald French: drum

Josh Starkman: guitar

Kirk Joseph: sousaphone

Natsuko Furukawa: piano

Nori Naraoka: bass

Richard Moten: bass

Interview with akiko

It’s the far echo of a marching band proceeding with its peculiar prance that introduce us to the latest work of singer akiko, revealing at once its musical nature.

After measuring herself with the different stylistic declensions of jazz, drawing from its history or imagining its possible future evolutions, this time the Japanese vocalist chooses to make a wider historical and geographical leap back to the origin of jazz, therefore to New Orleans.

Recorded at Piety street studios, based in the homonymous New Orleans’ street, the album is enriched by the presence of excellent local session men, each of them provided with that contagious vitality and peaceful melancholy which inevitably end up in their music.

However, this is not a philological and purist journey in the most traditional style of jazz, but somewhat an homage, revised trough the deep sensitivity and eclectic verve of akiko, to those tunes and music styles of the past which have always fascinated the singer.

For instance, Dark Eyes, the opening tune in pure traditional jazz style, is actually one of the most famous song of Russian folk repertoire, that akiko decides to make over even further singing it in her native language. A linguistic choice which turns out particularly fascinating if matched with those old-fashioned tunes.

Among akiko’s merits, indeed, have always been that of knowing how to merge together different genres and cultures making them cohabit in an accomplished and definitive way.

To complete the rétro atmosphere of the album is the presence of vocal duo Chai – Chii Sisters that embellish akiko’s refined voice with the harmonic textures of doo wop style in old standards like Love me or Leave me e Bei Mir Bist Du Shoen.

Some of the typical instruments of the most genuine New Orleans jazz style like clarinet (Love me or Leave me), trombone, even a washboard (Everybody Loves My Baby), among which Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s Kirk Joseph’s sousaphone stands out (Groovin’ High, Cry Me a River), alternate as key-instruments of each songs producing smart accompaniments and passionate solos. Above all, the warm and elegant voice of akiko framing everything and keeping together the many threads of the album.

The breath of Blues couldn’t lack in this trip led by the singer to the origins of jazz. It’s Just the Blues, an akiko’s original, allows the vocalist to express in her own way that feeling at the core of all black American music which permeates a large part of the album.

As in all previous akiko’s works, nothing is left to chance in the musical production and each performing aspect is honed in all its details making Dark Eyes one of the best and most balanced works of her discography. The album closes gracefully wit the languishing What a Difference a Day Makes in which the singer is carried by the yielding accompaniment of an organ as if she was lulled by the quiet waters of Mississippi river.