The jazz-fusion singer Katini reimagines standards as soulful R&B covers and releases rock-inspired originals on Gone, her debut album, released this week on the indie label One Trick Dog Records.
With this set, Katini (pronounced “kah-TEENY”) officially transitions from former “X Factor Australia” contender to emerging New York fixture. This month she secured residencies at Boom Boom Room and Metropolis, where you’re more likely to hear Katini’s low, powerful alto belting out Gnarls Barkley than Etta James (though she’s more than capable of nailing both).
Born Katini Yamaoka-Dinkubahi in Tokyo, to Japanese and Ghanaian parents, her worldview was shaped significantly by growing up in northeast Australia. Her physical work on Gone dates to 2013, shortly before she left for New York and landed a record deal
Yet the album’s concept goes back much further, about 20 years, to Katini’s darkest time: her father died when she was five. The family’s original plan to relocate to Ghana, where he often traveled as a diplomat, was upended when he was killed in a car accident. Gone is both Katini’s tribute to her father and a reckoning with what she calls “my struggle though love, solitude, and longing for the moon to bring him back to me.”
While Gone reflects on loss, it offsets despair and achieves a delicate balance with upbeat hooks and an uplifting narrative. Its sequencing works well, peppering Katini’s rocking originals (“I Love You”; “Forever Man”) with tender, unhurried interpretations of standards, including “Summertime” and “I Wish You Love.”
The standout song sounds as if it should be a standard. “Because” resembles a lost session from another era, a gem equally at home with contemporary and classic jazz with its rhythmic, catchy refrain: “Because I love you/Want you/Need you/Feel you/Give you all I got.”
Katini’s band includes pianist Ben Rosenblum, who co-arranged the album. He and drummer Darrian Douglas; guitarist Tom Larsen; bassist Tamir Shmerling; violinist Ben Sutin; and trumpeter Wayne Tucker bring to life a style Katini has coined Brown Girl Iconic, where her Asian, African, and Australian influences intersect.
Gone is by no means a melancholy record. It’s a love letter. And while Katini is grieving, she’s also celebrating.