TAEKO – Voice
Finding one’s own voice in jazz has long been a prerequisite for making a mark in this most creative music, which demands originality over imitation and values imagination over replication. This daunting task -- always an intimidating undertaking for all but the most gifted -- has become even more difficult today, as the art form has continued to grow and broaden it landscape. The road to distinction is arguably even more arduous for vocalists, as the number of performers who have successfully sang their way into the pantheon of jazz greats pales in comparison to the large quantity of instrumentalists who have played their way to the top. For a singer born in a far-off country and raised speaking a foreign language the mission seems nearly impossible, one to be undertaken by only the most dedicated of artists.
TAEKO is such an artist. A singer of uncommon originality with a voice all her own - one that has been aptly described as “a gentle breeze with hurricane potential” – the native of Japan has assimilated this “all-American” art form with astonishing individuality. Bearing touches of her many influences, from Ella Fitzgerald to Anita Baker, while remaining distinctly herself, TAEKO takes each song she sings and makes it her own, not just musically but spiritually. Voice, her second effort as a leader, like her impressive debut disc One Love, is full of surprises. Again it features her collaborative work with long time colleague, drummer Doug Richardson, who is responsible for the arrangements of several of the date’s excellent pieces.
Opening with Herbie Hancock’s popular “Cantaloupe Island” TAEKO quickly identifies herself as a soulful singer with a taste for the funkier side of jazz. She sings the hip lyric - written by her vocal coach Juanita Fleming, who she also credits for her ongoing growth as a vocalist - with a sassy self-confidence that betrays the soul of her new New York City roots. Greg Lewis’ organ, Kevin McNeal’s guitar and Gaku Takanashi’s electric bass give the track the boost that helps the singer, as the words say, “get up.” TAEKO reveals her bebop chops on Richardson’s arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “I Mean You,” burning up the Jon Hendricks words with skills honed under the tutelage of Barry Harris and Hendricks’ protégé Marion Cowings. The singer notes that “Soochow Serenade” was a hit in 1940’s Japan and relates that the song tells the story of a love affair in the picturesque Chinese town of its title. “Its beautiful lyric stuck with me for a while,” she says, “and I eventually wrote this arrangement (featuring pianist Lou Rainone) for it.”
“Inner City Blues” has long been a favorite of jazz instrumentalists, but surprisingly few vocalists have chosen to sing the song’s momentous words. TAEKO’s emotional take on Marvin Gaye’s soul classic is both poignant and telling, while her workout on “On A Clear Day” shows that she can swing with the best of them, too. “Spring Nocturne” is a beautiful original with words and music by the singer that reflect her Japanese heritage. TAEKO confesses, “I’m a big fan of Mr. Doug Carn.” She recorded Carn’s lyric to Bobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem” on her previous disc; here she delivers an emotional reading of his words accompanying Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes.”
“Biwako” is Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake, which is located in TAEKO’s birthplace of Shiga, just outside of Kyoto. The Japanese folk song was a hit in Japan in the seventies as a slow waltz. TAEKO’s arrangement brightens it up, with Richardson’s melodica adding just the right touch of melancholy. “This is my way of saying thank you to the people of my hometown,” she says. “Sugar” was hugely popular with New York audiences in the seventies. TAEKO hearkens to those soulful days with her lively performance of Ted Daryll’s lyric to the Stanley Turrentine tour de force, while her exquisite reading of Duke Ellington’s “I Didn’t Know About You,” intoned with ducal class, with only McNeal’s spare accompaniment, brings back memories of earlier simpler times.
Richardson’s fresh arrangement of Sly Stone’s “Stand” breathes new life into the Family Stone anthem and TAEKO delivers a lively rendition that includes a funky scat interlude. She says, “I feel I must continue to spread this powerful message.” Greg Lewis’s organ is heard to particularly good effect on this one. The date ends with a reprise of the beautiful “Biwako,” this time with the lyric sung in its English translation. TAEKO’s emotional reading of the song in the language of her adopted country proves that she is truly a citizen of the world and the flawless diction and discerning depth with which she delivers it displays a mature talent to be reckoned with. TAEKO has a voice that everyone should hear!