When I first came in contact with the music of Taeko, I was enamoured with her ability to stretch sound and work normal-sounding notes into waves of bending, meandering tone. Her sense of timing, too, was thrilling.
With Taeko’s latest release, appropriately called Voice, she evolves through her range and proves to be almost provoking in the ways she plays with the boundaries of singing. Bearing influences from Anita Baker to Ella Fitzgerald, Taeko’s work feels couched in Japanese traditions initially and branches through to the best in American and international jazz.
Voice finds her delivering a sassy string of confident numbers. She walks through the work of Herbie Hancock and Marvin Gaye adventurously and tacks on amazing renditions of traditional Japanese folk music to supply the expected curveball.
Taeko was born and raised on the outskirts of Kyoto and found early inspiration from the Japanese music played by her grandfather and father. She developed an interest in jazz in Japan and moved to New York in 1998 to dig deeper into the art form. Taeko has performed at a number of festivals and shows around the world, most notably in New York at the Women in Jazz Festival and as a headliner at the Newburgh Jazz Series.
As mentioned, Voice is a record that illustrates her evolution as an artist. Taeko’s energy is an unbridled as ever and this proves freeing as she takes chance after chance through these pieces. It’s as though she’s been set loose by her confidence, granted permission to toss out the rulebook.
Taeko’s delivery on Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island (Get Up)” is funky and polished. She holds notes elegantly, blowing through an extensive range that simmers handily into the bebop “I Mean You.”
After drawing out the New Yorker lurking within, Taeko takes a more personal road with the lovely “Spring Nocturne.” Unfortunately too short, the piece, written and composed by Taeko, is a glimpse into the singer’s Japanese heritage. It is elegant and intimate, making for one of my favourite tracks on the album.
Then there’s the engaging Wayne Shorter piece “Infant Eyes.” Featuring emotionally gripping lyrics from Doug Carn, the piece allows Taeko the self-determination to test the limits of her range.
Voice is a record of growth, telling the story of an artist developing and coming into her own. Taeko’s voice is akin to a powerful weapon in many ways and her ability to handle the nuances and strengths of her weapon is improving and growing with each moment of her fascinating, exhilarating career. More than anything else, Voice solidifies Taeko as an artist unafraid of taking chances.
Article originally published as I Hear Sparks: Taeko – Voice at Blogcritics.org