Monday, July 23, 2007

Akiko Yano - Kuma (1976)

矢野顕子 - ジャパニーズ・ガール

Akiko Yano is singer, songwriter, pianist, composer, translator, essayist and more all rolled into one. Described in her biography as "one of the most famous people you've never heard of", in her lengthy career as an artist she has recorded over 25 albums, only three of which have been commercially released in the U.S.

"Kuma" is taken from Yano's 1976 debut entitled Japanese Girl. Largely recorded in Los Angeles while she was only 21, Japanese Girl features the session work of Little Feat, whose founding members both played in Frank Zappa's Mothers Of Invention. Also backing Yano on the album are two members of Japanese folk-rock group Happy End: guitarist Shigeru Suzuki and a pre-Yellow Magic Orchestra Haruomi Hosono. In fact, Yano was married to Y.M.O.'s Ryūichi Sakamoto for over twenty years before the two finally divorced in 2006. Y.M.O. fans might recognize her as the female vocalist on the groups' 1980 single, "Nice Age", not to mention the countless tours on which she supported the band on keyboards.

As for the music on Japanese Girl, the collaboration of such a diverse group of musicians creates a uniquely Japanese blend of Western music that is equal parts jazz, pop, folk, and rock. A shakuhachi can be heard beneath the pentatony of a slide guitar in the song's opening notes, a juxtaposition that may serve as metaphor for the entire concept of the album. And as with much of the music on Japanese Girl, "Kuma" is at once ear-pleasing yet challenging in its rhythmic complexity; this polymetric slow jam shifts from a lulling 3/4 to a brisk 5/8 and back without loosing its cool in the least. The same flexibility can be said of Yano's ability in her songs to switch between Occidental and Oriental musical sensibilities, as the album itself is actually divided into American and Japanese sides.

Akiko Yano - Kuma
矢野顕子 - クマ

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Blogger Gareth said...

I always thought the singer on Nice Age was Mika from the Sadistic Mika Band.

November 3, 2007 at 3:18 PM  
Blogger Nakore said...

I can see how you might think that, but check this video out. That's Akiko Yano (who usually toured with YMO anyway) singing the backups. Sound familiar?

Yellow Magic Orchestra - Nice Age (Live)

November 4, 2007 at 6:06 PM  

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