Monday Michiru – Soulception (2012)

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In some ways, Monday Michiru is the Norah Jones of Japan: one of the few jazz-oriented female vocalists who are currently a true star, born to a famous musical father from another land. Michiru is the daughter of famed jazz saxophonist Charlie Mariano, and a Japanese mother who is a jazz legend herself, pianist and arranger Toshiko Akiyoshi. Michiru has been able to parlay her pedigree into a significant career of her own, staking a place within jazz as singer and composer crafting danceable but artistically significant Brazilian flavored acid-jazz and soul with an underground flair. This musical career, by the way, followed successful theatrical and modeling careers. But music was and remains her first love and main proficiency, having been formally trained as both a flautist and vocalist. She’s been making records for over twenty years, now, and has from early on been in control of her own recordings, handling production and arrangements as well as providing original material.

Though raised in the U.S., none of her dozen or so albums have really caught on within its shores, but with Soulception, her first album on her new label, Adventure Music, here’s another good try to make an impact. Soulception is the first of two planned projects for Adventure, and perhaps her most organic record ever. When you consider her body of work, and then consider the character of the Adventure Music label, it seems on the surface to make about as much sense as Van Morrison on the Blue Note label. After all, Machiru’s music has long been very sleek, modern and electronic; Adventure’s is acoustic, hand made, unadorned. There’s a large area of common ground between the two, though, and it’s Brazilian music. Michiru has been deep into Brazilian jazz at least since 1999’s Optimista, absorbing Flora Purim, Tania Maria, Sergio Mendes and even Basia, combining these influences to forge an approach of her own.

There’s no drum machines, programmed beats, sampling detected on Soulception (except for fake strings on “Adventures,” an insignificant cheat), but Michiru, as before, is in charge of production, arrangements and compositions, and her stamp is unmistakable, because in many places, it still sounds modern, and her voice and her songs remain, elements that have been at the heart of her music all along. All she did this time is to emphasize those traits more, in the Brazilian style she already knows inside and out; there weren’t any compromises made by either side because Michiru is a diverse musician able to thrive in a wide variety of settings.

Michiru also assembled a crack team of musicians that she could trust to carry out the vision: Adam Rogers (acoustic guitar), Boris Kozlov (acoustic bass), Nate Smith (drums), Gil Goldstein (accordion on a couple of tracks), and husband Alex Sipiagin (trumpet, flugelhorn, bass trumpet). Michiru herself plays flute. The fare offered in this collection does a lot with the Brazilian form; “Adventures” weaves spiritually minded lyrics into smart vocal arrangements and a very modern groove, which of course is generated by acoustic instruments. Milton Nascimento’s “Bridges” does away with drums altogether, replacing it with Goldstein’s squeezebox, and made into a lovely duet with Ed Motta. “Native Tongue” has no lyrics at all, Michiru uses her gifted voice as another instrument, as the songs moves through a variety of moods, like several songs fragments put together. Sipiagin handles the horn arrangements on “What Is In A Soul” (YouTube below) in a very imaginative way, and the rhythm chores is left largely to Rogers and Kozlov on this drum-less song, but Michiru’s attractive melody ultimately makes this one of the choice cuts of the album.

As she’s proved on her recent all-covers album Don’t Disturb This Groove (2011), Michiru can recast a good song into a new light and the song will often remain just as good. She added lyrics to Teru Shibuya’s “Map Of The Soul,” set it to a hip-hop beat—done by hand, of course—and Sipiagin turns in a pretty trumpet solo. Adventure Music’s own Hamilton de Holanda has his “Brasilianos” covered, again with lyrics added. It’s has a gorgeous melody but shifty rhythmic patterns that Michiru exploits to create drama in her vocal delivery.

Multi-talented with a lot to show for it, Monday Michiru’s lack of any commercial success in the American market is a bit baffling and the uncompromising Soulception likely won’t break her into it. But that’s on us Americans, not her. The few Yanks who will find this record are likely to consider themselves lucky that they did.

Soulception hits the streets on July 17, by Adventure Music. Visit Monday Michiru’s website for more info.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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