Susumu Yokota: Wonder Waltz
Lo Recordings

Yokota is so prolific and his discography so large, it's tempting to reduce a new work to a formula even before hearing it. One expects a Yokota release to draw its eclectic pool of samples from Western classical music, minimalism, gamelan, and other ‘world' musics, and for Yokota to do little to mask the identity of the samples like other producers who transform them or reduce them to miniscule fragments. One also expects ethereal vocals to accompany the songs' tribal rhythms, and ultimately to be impressed by the cleverness of their construction while simultaneously suspicious of how easy it is to produce them. Not surprisingly, Wonder Waltz fits the formula on all counts yet is distinguished by one especially notable development: the inclusion of multiple vocalists, each of whom adds a slightly different character to the project.

The album concept evolved out of Yokota's collaboration with Rothko (Distant Sounds of Summer) and in particular Caroline Ross's singing so it's not surprising that Ross re-appears. Joining her are Iva Bittova (a vocalist from Moravia who often performs with Bang On A Can), Japanese singer Hahimi Karie, and French DJ Alex From Tokyo. Karie's breathy enunciation in “Don't Go To Sleep” almost renders the title abstract, while her lulling whisper appears alongside a tick-tock pulse and chiming melodies in “My Energy.” Bittova's songs are the most eccentric and exotic of the lot. She drapes her scat over techno boogie in “Siva Dance” and wordlessly wails over a galloping beat in “Pegasus 150.” The album's greatest departure arrives in “L'etranger” when Alex From Tokyo speaks French over a dark industrial churn.

The most affecting songs are those featuring Ross. In the opening “1000 Wing Beats per Second,” the combination of chirping flutes and clarinets, a lazy trip-hop beat, and Ross's delicate vocalizing initially feels awkward and seems almost crude—until that is, her voice gently wafts skyward and Yokota's customary skill at weaving disparate elements into coherent wholes asserts itself. Her crystal clear singing elevates “Robed Heart” above the mildly interesting gamelan folk waltz it would otherwise be, and, in the album's most entrancing song, her graceful honey-dewed voice adds glorious shimmer to “Your Shining Darkness.” It's a far from perfect album—sometimes the samples do little more than sit awkwardly side-by-side (e.g., the acidy beats and string playing in “Rainbow Dust”)—but, like any Yokota release, the album has its share of memorable moments, in this case the Ross-Yokota pairings in particular.

September 2006