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Lionelle Hamanaka: A Jazz Bouquet

Jim Santella By

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Lionelle Hamanaka: A Jazz Bouquet Scat singing comes naturally to Lionelle Hamanaka. Like most of us, she learned it through her parents' love of good music. Growing up in Harlem and the Lower East Side, Hamanaka was exposed to the recordings and live jazz performances that would later form her natural grasp of vocalese, songwriting, and lyric interpretation. The acoustic sounds she works with on her debut album come from a respect for tradition; hers is a top-notch New York rhythm section.

Hamanaka's lyrics to Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments” open the session with a little of yesterday and sampling of today. It's a beautiful song in almost any setting, and here her lyrics provide a fresh look. Hamanaka's originals "Samurai Woman" and "Singerprints" fuse emotional blues with a free-swinging spirit. The message is clear: don't look for any run-of-the-mill appearances when you experience what she has to say. Hamanaka's art is indeed a surprising form of jazz bouquet that cries out for more.

One high point of the session, "Deep Night," includes dramatic tension and release from a staid quintet that includes guests Joe Wilder and Roland Alexander. A swingin’ bossa arrangement of “Till There Was You” shows off the singer's powerful vocal range. Recalling the unique vocal style of Betty Carter, she bips and bops up, down, and all over the place. Hamanaka interprets each song from the heart and with something new to add each time out. Her individual voice stands alone among the hundreds of jazz singers plying their wares today in every major city. This artist has something different to share. Audio samples from her album are available from Hamanaka's web site. Her well-put Internet stopover provides a thorough and timely overview of the New York jazz scene in the form of a newsletter, which she calls Jazz Notes. Duke Ellington’s “The Feeling of Jazz” provides a different look, and another glimpse at what brings memories of Betty Carter to the forum. She is at her best when scat singing – as on "My Heart Stood Still," where she trades fours with bassist Ron McClure – or when interpreting the blues – as she does soulfully on "Singerprints" and "Samurai Woman." Hamanaka possesses a unique style of vocal jazz: a delicate combination of the past and the future.


Title: A Jazz Bouquet | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Lionelle Hamanaka


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