The Ai Kuwabara Trio Project brought a delicious taste of Japanese jazz to Denver

ai kuwabara trio project

We recently were privileged to enjoy a concert of contemporary jazz by a vibrant young group from Japan, the Ai Kuwabara Trio Project. Simply put, the combo rocked the joint at the King Center for the Performing Arts at the Auraria campus. The auditorium was full for the free performance, and I bet everyone there were blown away.

Pianist Kuwabara is impossibly young for such an astonishingly assured and accomplished musician and composer. She’s a mere 23 years old, but she and her bassist and musical partner Yusuke Morita have already released two albums as the Ai Kuwabara Trio Project (the “Project” part is because the group doesn’t have a permanent drummer, though Shintaro Imamura is doing a sterling job on the current tour).

The musicians’ youth comes through in the way they are almost starstruck at their own success. At a pre-show reception, Kuwabara bowed deeply when she was introduced to Ikuhiko Ono, the Consul General of Japan at Denver, and his wife Eiko. The tour is organized by the Japan Foundation of Los Angeles, which brings a variety of Japanese arts and culture and showcases them here in the States. This particular tour was too brief: The group played in Berkeley and LA before coming to Denver, and the next day they flew off to Anchorage — yes, Alaska — to perform one more time before flying back to Japan.
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Charmaine Clamor’s Colorado concert was great — we’d love to see her again!

Charmaine Clamor in Colorado Jan. 29, 2011

Charmaine Clamor was terrific in her first Colorado appearance Jan. 28 at the Broomfield Auditorium. The Philippines-born, US-raised jazz singer, who does a fine job singing the classic song catalog but adds a layer of unique talent by bringing her jazz singing chops to traditional Filipino songs as well as original music and lyrics in Tagalog. The 300-seat auditorium, one of the best rooms of its size in the metro area for sound and ambience, wasn’t quite full but I bet next time Clamor comes to the area, word of mouth will bring in a full house. Kudos to KUVO, the jazz public radio station, for supporting the show, and to the Filipino American Community of Colorado, which brought her here as much for her Pinay presence as for her music.

Clamor’s a natural entertainer, connecting effortlessly with her audience — even though many of us were new to her rich talent — and getting people to fuel her performance. Some audience members from the local Filipino community were familiar with her, because she’s an adopted daughter of every Filipino community across the country. She’s also an incredibly controlled vocalist who can stretch out or squeeze a note to suit her syncopation. I’m glad I got to know her music a little before she came to town, and I’ve since completed my library of all four of her albums.

Accompanied by a killer rhythm section aptly named “The Killin’ Sweethearts” that she brought from her home in LA, and filled out with tight local horn players, the music was flawless all evening. The highlights for us were the two songs below, the first her take on “My Funny Valentine,” “My Funny Brown Pinay,” an assertion of ethnic identity and pride, and Minamahal Kita,” a traditional song sung in Tagalog with a gentle swing, accompanied by stellar ukulele playing by Clamor’s Guam-born, Hawai’i-raised drummer and musical director, Abe Lagrimas.

Clamor’s off to play back home in LA in support of her new album, “Something Good” (and it is), and Boston in March. In between she’s off to Manila to play the Philippines International Jazz Festival. Sometime in the future, I hope she can return to Colorado.

Charmaine Clamor, “Queen of Jazzipino,” coming to Colorado Jan. 29

Charmaine Clamor, Queen of JazzipinoThe music is straight ahead jazz — the classic, swingy stuff with lots of space between instruments and a smoky, sultry voice caressing the lyrics. It’s jazz, the classic American artform. But the words… aren’t… English. The words to the lovely “Dahil Sa Yo (Because of You)” are sung in Tagalog, the native language of the Philippines. It’s a jazz standard nonetheless, written for a Filipino movie in 1938 and better known for an English-Tagalog version recorded in 1964 that made the charts in the US.

The singer is Charmaine Clamor, the self-described “Queen of Jazzipino,” who sings with a lovely voice in both English and Tagalog, a range of songs from traditional jazz to a fine jazzy version of the U2 rock hit “With or Without You,” to traditional folksongs of the Philippines in her jazzipino style.

Clamor’s built a loyal following of Filipinos worldwide by bringing her jazz chops to songs in Tagalog, updating her cultural heritage with a modern sheen. She was born in the Philippines and started singing when she was just 3, entertaining bus riders. She later learned to play the piano and accompanied her mother, who sang Filipino torch songs called “kundiman.” Her family moved stateside when she was 16 and she retained her cultural ties to the Philippines.

She’s released four albums, including the wonderful, low-key “My Harana: A Filipino Serenade” that’s almost entirely in Tagalog, and mostly sparingly accompanied with just a guitar or percussion. For fans of Brazilian jazz and samba sung in Portuguese, sitting back with Clamor’s Tagalog songs has the same lilting, lulling effect.

Clamor kicks off her 2007 album “Flippin’ Out” with a wonderful take on “My Funny Valentine,” “My Funny Brown Pinay,” a powerful affirmation of her ethnic identity that starts out with a spoken poem backed by piano, bass and drums before she breaks into the melody:
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New interview: Meet Dan Kuramoto, founding member of Grammy-nominated group Hiroshima

Dan Kuramoto, founding member of the Grammy-nominated fusion jazz group HiroshimaWe’ve taken several months off, but Erin and I are ready to resume our series of interviews with inspirational Asian Americans for 2010. We’re especially proud to be able to speak with Dan Kuramoto, one of the founding members of the fusion jazz group Hiroshima, because the group has been nominated twice for a Grammy award! We’ll be speaking with Dan on Tuesday, March 2 at 6 pm PT (9 pm ET). You can register now for the call and submit questions for Dan on our webcast page.

Only a few Asian Americans have been nominated for a Grammy Award over the years, and Hiroshima has managed the feat twice — once in 1980 for “Winds of Change,” a track off the groups second album, “Odori.” Hiroshima was nominated again for their latest album “Legacy,” a collection of re-recordings of songs from the band’s first ten years together. The band has been together for over 30 years, and have become an institution on the fusion jazz and R&B scene. Continue reading

“Ray Sings, Basie Swings” is a ghostly concept album

It’s a somewhat goulish idea: take a recording of a late, great artist, and shore it up with new backing tracks. It’s been done before, with Natalie Cole’s “duet” with her father, and the remaining Beatles backing a newly-discovered John Lennon solo track. And if you wanna look at it from a contemporary perspective, digital “mashups” that overlay, for instance, Nirvana with Destiny’s Child accomplish the same idea with spooky success.

On “Ray Sings, Basie Swings,” the legendary vocalist is paired up via technology to the current and living version of the Count Basie Orchestra, and the result is a brassy, sassy and sometimes strange album from the grave. Continue reading