Itoko Toma: When the World Will Mix Well

Itoko Toma issued her 2010 debut album, Dreamtime, on Masaktatsu Takagi's Felicity label, but judging from the sound and style of her follow-up, When the World Will Mix Well, there would seem to be no better home for her music than Akira Kosemura's Schole (her first appearance on the label came about when she contributed vocals to his 2010 Grassland release). Toma's forty-minute collection features ten vocal and instrumental songs that the Kurashiki-based pianist has fashioned in many cases as elegant chamber-classical settings, and though the Japan-born artist is joined on the album by string players (violins, viola, violoncello, and contrabass) and guitarists (guitar and pedal steel), these exceptionally pretty songs primarily feature her piano and vocals.

Toma's uncluttered style serves the material well, allowing as it does the beauty of the songs' oft-wistful melodies to shine through without interference. A blend of heartfelt instrumental and vocal pieces, the album's effectively framed by the instrumentals “For Us” and “Cantabile.” In the first vocal setting, “Shorebird,” her soft voice glides over flowing arpeggios in a way that convincingly evokes the image of a bird drifting on the wind with the sea's waves flowing below. “Row, Row” grows haunting when Toma echoes her own utterance with a faint reprise; “Clearly Clear” proves entrancing when delivered at a slow and sultry tempo.

The album's filled with exquisite moments, among them the lovely vocals-free coda that ends “Shorebird” and “Horse From Parallel,” a beautiful, soul-stirring ballad that sees her voice ascend rapturously to a higher register. Album producer Kosemura arranged “Fantasia,” which sweetens Toma's voice and piano with a lovely string arrangement; French pianist Quentin Sirjacq also contributed a string arrangement, in his case to the gently soaring “When the Word and the Heart Will Mix Well.”

One quibble: though the vocal pieces are sung in English, Toma delivers them with a strong accent that can sometimes makes the lyrics difficult to decipher; that being so, the inclusion of lyrics with the physical release would have been helpful. Finally, mention must be made of the striking visual presentation by designer/photographer Shin Kikuchi, especially when the images act as such an ideal correlate to Toma's music; the package even comes with a dust cover-like sleeve, standard practice in book design but rare for music packaging. The result is a release that's as satisfying to look at as listen to.

March 2017