Ami Nakazono- Make It Happen! (VEGA Mustic Entertainment)
Esperanza Spalding made the double bass seem cool. Looking at the album cover of 30 year old classically-trained Ami Nakazono’s Make It Happen! with the Japanese alto-saxophonist sporting a ripped vest, a model-like pose beside youthful lipstick handwriting (looking like Michelle Branch with a saxophone) it seems as if another artist is attempting to bring a jazz instrument to a different audience. The album cover works! It’s curiously alluring, standing apart from the other Jazz records beside it in a record store. It suggests that this will be a saxophone album from a different perspective and coating but is this assumption realised in the musical content within?
One of the aspects that made Esperanza Spalding so successful at bringing the double bass to another audience was that it was accompanied by other interesting aspects of her character – the Portuguese heritage and language and her juxtaposition of smooth yet energetic scatting vocals. It seemed like her entire project. Ami Nakazono’s Make It Happen! is an almost entirely instrumental album with the only vocals being from Thai singer Jah Kanokkan Sudhikam (on two versions of the tacky Disney-like ballad ‘Love You Forever’), – which takes away the possible personalization of the record. The vocals are also in English and Thai, instead of Japanese which takes away the culturally interesting hook, which is something that Spalding brought to the table. Although it’s near-impossible for a saxophonist to also simultaneously sing and it’s possible that Nakazano doesn’t have the voice for it, it would have be a nice if Nakazono intermixed the both in some way or brought rising Japanese vocalists on board.
However, this might be marketing plan to venture into an international market – also shown by her collaboration with Los Angeles based trumpeter Illya Serov on ‘Camarade’ – and a consequence of Nakazano’s camouflaging engagement in the US jazz scene and on-going work in a collaborative jazz group called Raw Ambition. It’s worth noting that Nakazono moved to Boston from her volcanic hometown of Kagoshima, Japan in 2006.
Musically though Make It Happen! is an enjoyable and relaxing listen, if instantly forgettable. Among the blend of smooth Kenny G jazz and Grover Washington elements (‘Muse’ and ‘Ami’s Ballad’ are the most akin to the performers) and a lounge style reminiscent of producer Afterlife, there is also some edgy funk-rock rhythms on the record with the wah-wahs taking centre stage on ‘Are You Ready’?
Whilst ‘Never Ending’ is a compelling jam with bouncing swing drums, a cross-genre rhythm guitar performance pairing the sounds of Red Hot Chilli Peppers with John Mayer and unexpected electronic phasing for extra gloss. Fans of Jeff Beck will undoubtedly enjoy the guitar middle section of ‘610′– a musical piece that upstages the saxophonist but will encourage audiences to see Nakazono’s band live.
However, isn’t this supposed to be Ami Nakazano’s album? A solo saxophone performance would have been beneficial in establishing herself away from the unit and demonstrate the power of her ability. There’s also the added disappointment in the exclusion of “World Connection”, an engaging 2016 track that’s reminiscent of David Bowie’s ‘Bring Me The Disco King’ that failed to make it onto the record.
With all of the outsider help, and lack of a vocal guidance from Nakazono, this makes the saxophonist blend in with the rest of the jazz performers on show and based on her live performances which lack an egotistical personality (perhaps a Japanese trait after all), this might a refreshing and purposeful choice of her own making.
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