by Bea Willis
Vocalist Yuko Ito is a native of Tokyo, Japan, that now resides in New York City. Ito received a B.F.A degree from City College of New York in music (Jazz Vocal Performance, under the direction of Sheila Jordan) and has developed a singing style that melds: pop, rock, R&B, jazz funk, gospel, free jazz and various forms of Brazilian music into a cohesive style of jazz and world music that is very enjoyable and uniquely hers. Ito’s passion for Brazilian music developed over the years and was the focus for her first album Mania De Você, as well as her 2nd album, O Cantador, which was co-produced by pianist/composer Cidinho Teixeira. Ito has work hard on her Portuguese and her ability to interpret the Brazilian music tradition, she has released her third album, Esperança, which continues her exploration of the Brazilian music tradition with originals and covers.
The English translation of Esperança is hope, and that is the energy that Ito’s brings to a collection of Brazilian songs by: Milton Nascmento, Antônio Carlos Jobim, Luiz Bonfá, Ivan Lins and Dori Caymmi . In addition, Ito also recorded two songs from the great American Song Book, “Moon River” and “What A Wonderful World.” Ito has not forgotten her Asian heritage either, she combined the Japanese song “Tsubasa wo Kudasai” with Brazilian rhythms. The album additionally contains an original by Daniel Giel, “Stolen Water” and two originals by Ito.
“Moon River” is given a nice Brazilian style, with Ito’s vocal style conveying the melody with confidence and just a hint of accent. Her phrasing is in the pocket and clearly defines the clave. Helio Alves’ piano solo is energetic and builds the song nicely. The arrangement is clear and focuses on being musical and allowing Ito to sing the melody. That is the strength of Ito’s music and style, clarity and directness of phrasing and timing. This make for enjoyable music.
Jobim’s “Só Danço Samba” clearly shows Ito at her best. Clear diction and heartfelt ornamentations of the melody really brings this tune to a new level. Romero Lubambo does a terrific job of filling the space around Ito. Ito’s scatting is rhythmically enjoyable as she flows through the form. Lubambo’s solo is equally enjoyable, pushing the beat just enough to add urgency and make the music travel. This is the musical setting where Ito settles in allowing the music to catapult her mastery of the Brazilian style.
The fact that Ito is not a native born Brazilian artist, never shows. Her ability to convey the language lovingly with passion and introspective care is immediately evident. The supporting ensemble is brilliant and together they make an emboldened sound that delights and uplifts the overall experience. A welcomed international sound, predominately grounded in world music sounds, with a hint of jazz flavoring and certainly Brazilian spice.
Tracks to sample first: “Só Danço Samba,” “Moon River.” Song to take a chance on is “Esperança.”