Japanese-born vocalist Mari Koga has been living in New York for some time now, performing in the City's most prestige's jazz clubs and making a name for herself in one of the most vibrant jazz scenes around. With the help of long-time friend and fellow Japanese artist, pianist Chiemi Nakai, Koga now presents her astonishing debut album Perfect Blue, containing fresh new arrangements of a few jazz standards and brisk new originals with elements of Afro-Cuban rhythms comprising the main theme of the album. Forming a new band (Afronaughtica) in 2010 with co-leader Nakai, Koga immersed herself in the Afro-Latin genre where she cemented her credentials as a Latin-styled singer as she demonstrates here.
The vocalist collaborates with percussionist Willie Ruiz, who not only performs on the recording, but also lends a hand as co-producer. For this first effort, Koga enlist the help of some nineteen musicians among them, veteran drummer Vince Cherico, composer/bassist Pedro Giraudo, and trumpeter of note Mike Rodriguez. Koga's arrangement of the immortal standard "Invitation," turns the tune into a Latin burner featuring Alejandro Aviles on tenor saxophone and Sebastian Nickoll on the Congas.
Pianist Nakai's original "Azul" (Blue) is introduced by the pianist with the singer's crisp, slightly-accented vocals delivering the lyrics in graceful style on another Afro-Cuban romp of a piece. Koga's original "Lluvia De Lagrimas," takes on a special and very unique treatment, on a percussive bouncy Latin tune, offering main lyrics in Japanese as the background vocals are delivered in Spanish. Two of the highlights on this disc are "You & I," and the straight interpretation of the Gene DePaul classic "You Don't Know What Love Is," void of the Latin influence present throughout the repertoire.
George Gershwin and brother Ira, would probably be wondering "what have they done with our "I Got Rhythm" song?" The vocalist, Ruiz and friend Nakai join forces here providing one funky arrangement of the classic that works quite well here. Koga shares her gentle side with a warm performance on the only balladic piece of the set, the Nakai original "The Moon on the Water" featuring beautiful trumpet solos from Mike Rodriguez on clearly, another highlight of the project.
Pianist Nakai reprises "Volver," a song from one of her previous albums featuring the singer voicing the lyrics in Japanese as the finale tune of the recording capping off an enticing debut from the latest new voice on the jazz block. New songstress Mari Koga has chosen Afro-Latin jazz as the vehicle from which to launch a promising musical career and the engaging Perfect Blue, offering challenging new arrangements, dynamic compositions and a solid vocal performance, may well be the strong foundation from which to begin.
Track Listing: Invitation; Azul; Lluvia De Lagrimas; You & I; You Don't Know What Love Is; I Got Rhythm; The Moon on the Water; Volver.
Personnel: Mari Koga: vocals, coro (1, 3); Chiemi Nakai: piano; Alex Hernandez: Bass (1, 2,4); Mario Rodriguez: bass (3); Pedro Giraudo: bass (5, 7, 8); Ruben Rodriguez: bass (6); Franco Pinna: drums; Vince Cherico: drums (6); Alejandro Aviles: tenor saxophone (1, 5); Mike Rodriguez: trumpet (7); Jonathan Powell: trumpet (6); Manuel Maneco Ruiz: trumpet (3); Alex Zapata: trombone (3, 6); Carl Corwin: baritone saxophone (3, 6); Noriko Nagao: clarinet (3); Sebastian Nickoll: congas (1, 2); Willie Ruiz: congas (3, 4, 6), Bongo 7 bell (3), Maracas & Guiro (3, 4, 6), coro (1,3); Pablo "Chino" Nunez: Timbales (3); Jerome Goldshumidt: cajon & percussion (8); Yoko Mimata: coro (3)
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