Singer Atsuko Kamura began her career by juggling roles as karaoke bar hostess and punk chanteuse in Tokyo, performing with the agit-fem Polkadot Fire Brigade and The Honeymoons. Her arrival in London led to a spell with the situationist pranksters Frank Chickens, duetting with Kazuko Hohki. In parallel she has explored improvisation with such as Tenko, Fred Frith and John Zorn and in London alongside Charles Hayward and Lol Coxhill. She is currently also singer with Japanese folk-jazz big band Setsuban Bean Unit and performs as part of the improvising rock trio Superstrings. I am a Kamura play Chinese ballads from the thirties, Japanese folk song and self-penned material. She is backed by a four piece band including Simon King, Paul May, Matt Armstrong and Robert Storey, and on this recording by a string section.
I Am A Kamura album reviewed in Wire magazine
I Am A Kamura
Atsuko Kamura's debut solo album is one of this year's most remarkable collection of songs, worthy to stand alongside Margareth Kammerer and Christoff Kurzmann's The Magic ID Project. More Irving Berlin than Berlin digital angst, however, I Am A Kamura are all about live playing and uncanny vocal delicacy. Are we in a hotel bar in 1930s downtown Fukuoka, Kamura's hometown in Japan? Or are those harps and strings from Wong Kar-Wai's heady 2046-style fantasies? In fact Kamura's music could only have been made right now and in London, for all its Japanese lyrics and faux-oriental touches over Latin rhythms.
Kamura's pedigree is in Tokyo punk and Frank Chickens, while her collaborators hail from Kenny Process Team, Homelife and the UK Improv scene. Guitarist/producer Robert Storey has a lengthy track record of songwriting with Bing Selfish and the endlessly shapeshifting Murphies. Two of these songs are Chinese and Japanese traditional, while one ("La Chaviata") appears to owe something to Verdi, but the atmosphere of oriental daydream is well sustained throughout. "Jizo" sets out its trotting-horse beat, only to abandon drums for an intimate guitar breakdown. Much of the album's magic is like this - achieving power by leaving things out. Likewise the vocal performances, which are both spontaneous and understated. The impression is of chanteuse muscle being gently reined in. Most mysterious is "Aya San", where the isolated voice encounters Sylvia Hallett's violin and the full group entry is held back for several minutes.
What a haunting piece of work this is - in a way it sounds as though it's been around for years. Beware; melodies like "Tenshi" and "Whisper" can lodge in the brain and refuse to budge.
Clive Bell Wire magazine, November 2008.