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Kyoko Kitamura: Armadillo In Sunset Park

John Sharpe By

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In a genre-defying debut, vocalist/pianist Kyoko Kitamura releases what she terms a mini album, collecting nine pieces, many written for a dance collaboration. It might be termed a solo effort, except that the electronics and sound effects provided by George Walker Petit play such an integral role. A former journalist with a Gulf War stint on her résumé, Kitamura has previously graced the ensembles of cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum's SpiderMonkey Strings on Madeleine Dreams (Firehouse 12, 2009) and Go-Zee-Lah at NYC's Vision Festival, as well as singing on iconoclastic saxophonist/composer Anthony Braxton's first studio recorded opera Trillium E: Wallingford's Polarity Gambit (New Braxton House, 2011).

Kitamura's idiosyncratic lyrics and articulation are the main deal, with her instrumental accompaniment providing the harmonic framework on which the text can be hung. It is hard to tell if the words are fitted to the contours of the music or vice versa, but what is clear is that they remain very closely entwined, with little overt improvisation. Her expressive, sometimes theatrical, delivery shows a great vocal range, veering from wordless vocalese to near operatic feats via an alluring speech like enunciation.

A kooky humor permeates almost every piece. The wry "Zombie Song" features a folksy melody, after a croaky introduction of multi-tracked voices, while the attractive lilting "Densha Song" is sung in Japanese, although if the other cuts are any guide then the lyrics probably recount some bizarre confluence of the everyday and the gruesome. At times, especially for the numbers without words, there is a sense of something missing. Perhaps it is the interaction with the movement from the unseen dance, which might justify a volatile direction change or complete the mood. But at best,, as on the wonderful title track—which also includes a recipe for the titular creature—words and music sustain repeated listening. The mock serious chorus "always use rubber gloves when handling raw armadillo," never ceases to amuse. In performance, the dancers don Pepto Bismol-pink rubber hand wear, which would be the cherry on top.

Track Listing: Armadillo In Sunset Park; Parasite; Zombie Song; Densha Song; Catching Eel With My Bare Hands; Charlie Brown's Wandering Eye; DMG 3.27.11; Arm; Crossing.

Personnel: Kyoko Kitamura: voices and piano; George Walker Petit: sound effects.

Title: Armadillo In Sunset Park | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Self Produced

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