VIDEO PREMIERE: Emi Makabe Fuses Traditional Shamisen with Modern Jazz Sounds on “Flash”

The intimate, alluring art of singer-composer and instrumentalist Emi Makabe is utterly individual, even as it resonates with inspirations ranging from Joni Mitchell and Theo Bleckmann to Japanese folk music and jazz improvisation. Born and raised in Japan but a decade-plus resident of New York, Makabe studied with the likes of Bleckmann, Jen Shyu and Judith Berkson, and she has become a presence on the city’s creative music scene, performing at the 55 Bar, Rockwood Music Hall, Shapeshifter Lab, St. Peter’s Church and the bygone Cornelia Street Café. She has also ventured to Europe, singing and playing her Japanese shamisen (a banjo-like instrument) in a duo with her husband, bassist Thomas Morgan, at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Now, she presents her debut album: Anniversary, to be released via Greenleaf Music on October 30th.

Anniversary features Emi on vocals and shamisen alongside a trio of New York jazz virtuosos: Morgan on bass, Vitor Gonçalves on piano/accordion and Kenny Wollesen on drums/vibraphone. The album presents Emi’s original songs – sung in English, Japanese and wordless vocalese – in airy, artful arrangements, with improvisation naturally part of the mix. Time Out New York has praised Emi’s music as “imaginative,” while New York Music Daily calls it “rapturous, adventurous.”

Anniversary has a subtly evocative yet unmistakably emotional undertow, one informed by romantic partnership as well as the new friends and missed family of the immigrant experience. “The title Anniversary has two meanings,” Emi explains. “I wrote the title song for my partner, Thomas, on our anniversary day, and it became a significant song for me. The album was also recorded just after the 10th anniversary of my move to New York from Japan, and its music was made in the context of my experience here with the musicians and people who support and inspire me. With deep appreciation, I dedicate this album to my parents and all of my family, friends and mentors.”

Today Glide is excited to premiere the video for “Flash,” one of the singles on Anniversary. Backed by a jazz rhythm section, Emi contrasts her airy and poignant vocals with her playing of the shamisen, an instrument that sounds like a softer, perhaps more metallic version of the banjo. She beautifully sings along with the instrument, seemingly transcending its traditional Japanese sound for something modern yet respectful of its history. Her vocalese singing style is inspired by Meredith Monk, among other artists. He is joined in this song by a trio of New York jazz virtuosos: Thomas Morgan on bass, Vitor Gonçalves on piano/accordion and Kenny Wollesen on drums/vibraphone. “Flash” is an exciting example of the completely unique approach that Emi takes to her music. According to Emi, “the animated music video, made by Monica Frisell, reflects the environment of an artist residency I had in upstate New York for one month this August. I was living in the wilderness with many creatures and one day I saw a flock of three dozen swallows fly by. More and more I felt a part of nature. The video feels like a souvenir from my experience there.”

Emi describes the process behind the song:

“This is my first composition with shamisen, which is a Japanese traditional instrument. After writing the melody I heard a counter line and I realized that the shamisen could play it. I had wanted to compose for the shamisen in a non-traditional style of playing. In that way and others this is an experimental song. No lyrics, no solos, and complex rhythms. This piece is pretty challenging: there are a lot of independent overlapping rhythms that require the band to play closely together, which is fun to be a part of.”


Photo credit: Dave Farkas

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