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Erika: Obsession

Bruce Lindsay By

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Obsession is vocalist Erika Matsuo's debut CD, but it comes after a long and varied musical career that includes the all-girl rock band Tear Drops, in her native Japan, and work with the City College of New York's Latin jazz band. This is the debut, therefore, of an experienced singer and it shows in Matsuo's confident approach.

The album's mix of tunes includes standards such as Cole Porter's "Night and Day" but focuses mainly on songs from Brazilian composers including Milton Nascimento and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Matsuo sings most of these in Portuguese, displaying an affinity with the Latin styles as well as for the language—most effectively, on Djavan's "Samurai." The most satisfying performance, however, is Matsuo's rendition of a standard—Billy Strayhorn's "My Little Brown Book." The singer's phrasing is inventive and atmospheric, with a real emotional involvement. The instrumental accompaniment is relatively sparse—bass, drums, piano and tenor saxophone—and the arrangement suits the mood of the lyrics perfectly.

The musicians are uniformly excellent, providing tight, skilful accompaniment to Matsuo's vocals. Pianist Carlton Holmes shows particular skill on the slower numbers, accenting the vocals without ever attempting to overwhelm them—most notably on "Samurai." Guitarist Romero Lubambo demonstrates similar skill when he duets with the singer on Francis Hime and Chico Buarque's "Atras da Porta." Throughout the album drummer Willard Dyson and bassist Essiet Essiet combine to form a superb rhythm section with a real groove.

On the negative side, some of the song choices lack imagination—"Night and Day" and Van Morrison's "Moondance" are overly familiar and these interpretations add nothing new—and Matsuo's undoubted technical skill is not always balanced by a clear emotional involvement with the songs. But Obsession is still a promising debut—a beautifully produced, finely performed, collection of songs from a confident vocalist with a developing jazz sensibility.

Track Listing: Night and Day; Bridges/Travessia; Samurai; Atras da Porta; Moondance; I Could Have Told You; Obsession; My Little Brown Book; Chega de Saudade; The Island; Someone to Light Up My Life; Oceano; Love for Life; I Close My Eyes.

Personnel: Erika: vocals; Carlton Holmes: piano; Essiet Essiet: acoustic and electric bass; Willard Dyson: drums; Paulo Levi: soprano and tenor sax (8, 10, 11, 14); Yosvany Terry: soprano and alto sax (5, 7); Romero Lubambo: guitar (4, 9); Freddie Bryant: guitar (2, 3, 7, 11, 12, 14); Nanny Assis: percussion (3, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14).

Title: Obsession | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Self Produced

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