Friday, August 17, 2012

Miho Wada Wanderland 2012

I was a contributor for All About Jazz and Jazz Review for roughly three months while working on my own site. Admittedly I may have bitten off more than I could chew but three months was more than enough time to know a bad fit when I was in one. My final review connected with this literary nightmare and perhaps one of the best things to come out of the experience was my review of Miho Wada's Para Ti which ended up on my site. 

I recently received an email from Miho Wada expressing her appreciation for my kind words and efforts and she asked if I might be interested in taking her latest release for a test drive, Wanderland. I thought long and hard for about 3 seconds before saying YES!

Wada is billed as a jazz ninja and at times she plays a flavor of what is referred to as Japanese punk jazz so the tag seems more than fitting. Wada is a virtuoso talent that has traveled the world and has even done a stint with Iggy Pop.  Wada is the real deal when it comes to a world class flautist, part Herbie Mann and part Dave Valentin fused into her own eclectic style which simply put - makes you happy! The subtle Asian influence while unmistakable adds to the cinematic beauty and allows for beautiful texture with a deceptively subtle zen like minimalism. Less is more. The beauty of a simple melody is sometimes all you need. A great deal of the inspiration for Wanderland came from a girl walking her puppy around their home in Auckland New Zealand. The end result of the compositions here are her bright and breezy attitude on life, love and of course music. Miho's jazz orchestra is a project based out of Auckland that started in 2011 after the natural disasters struck her home countries. Wada's home soon turned into a wondrous refuge for the orchestra to gather and play while sending love back home. The previously mentioned EP Para Ti was an outgrowth of this most unique situation and led to her score book "Play M!Ho" which was published for her teaching work. Wada is one of a handful of legitimate jazz triple threats as performer, composer and educator and with such a high degree of proficiency emanating from each it is of little wonder her musical stock seems to be an arrow pointing straight up.

Wanderland has tracks from the score book and freshly penned originals written for their live performances as well. The ebb and flow of this release is spot on, contemporary and smooth yet incredibly real and organic. Normally a release of this nature would stand a 50/50 chance of dying a sonic death in post production thanks to the over use of compression and various other tricks to sanitize the music for your protection. "Seaside Love Walk as shown in the You Tube video below is a beautiful original, simple yet poignant in emotion and a wonderful example of Wada as a cultural by product of her own influences. "Bears and Bamboos" is a tale of a lost bear that keeps bumping into pandas. Again, a deceptively simple melody accentuated by the subtle nuances of the ensemble. Wada's improvisational skills and harmonic development are on point every step of the way as both the tunes and the thematic development are consistently changing yet there is a harmonious lyrical sense of direction that is oddly calming. A particular favorite track of mine is "The Dark Side Of The Bouncy Castle" which explores the musical question, "What's on the other side of a bouncy castle...Does a bouncy castle have an evil side?" The rhythmic drum beats that open the tune are an odd reminder for me of the Heineken beer spot seen on television...Perhaps that is my evil side, either way the tune is wildly original and incredibly infectious. Closing out the release we have "Wonderland Puppy Walk" which is a whimsical look at the adventures of life and with the simple message to stay positive. When you check out this tune you can literally hear the rhythmic bounce of the way a puppy would walk, amazing grasp of the subtly of life. I love it!

There are other artists that go out of their way to concentrate on a positive vibe (normally for commercial purposes only all thought that is conjecture on my part ) and the fail miserably in the attempt. Pretentiousness, self indulgent, flavors of the month whose release would not even make good "hold" music. With Miho Wada nothing is forced, she lets the music come to her and is then kind enough to share this magnificent gift with us. Wada's talents have been hit here but the one intangible she carries is the ability to make you smile, to make you revel in the delightful simplicity of a happy tune and where it can take you. That my friends is what music is all about. I dig this record and hope you will as well! Check out for purchase information and other cool stuff!

Tracks: The Dark Side of Bouncy Castle; Nanda Nanda; Clock Hop; Seaside Love Walk; Bears and Bamboos; Breakfast with Aliens; Between The Sheets; Wonderland Puppy Walk.

Personnel: Miho Wada: flute, alto & tenor sax; Pascal Roggen: violin, electric violin & whistling; James Donaldson: cello; Takumi Motokawa: piano, organ & percussion; Andrew Rudolph: guitar & whistling; Lee Corso: bass guitar, percussion & whistling; Jane Chen: taiko drums; Alistair Deverick: drums & percussion.