Kiku Collins,
Here With Me
(Innova, 2007)

Here With Me is a quality example of smooth, cool jazz. It utilizes a wide variety of instruments, orchestration, texture and style. From spicy, Latin-inspired flute (Jay Rodriguez) to unexpected and well-voiced bowed string chorales (Greg Hirte, violin, and Trevor Exter, cello), I'd say the most striking thing about this CD is the finesse and musicality with which background orchestrations and textures are considered. There are multiple moments where brass melodies are well-harmonized, and full brass choirs are used in styles ranging from big band to traditional chorale. Background comping is clean and unobtrusive, yet intriguing as it changes between marimba, vibraphone, piano and guitar.

Kiku Collins performs with an excellent grasp of technique and style, and a full, bawdy brass tone. For some longer notes or more aggressive tracks, her tone could be considered a bit edgy or overdone, yet it is balanced by the aforementioned chordal backgrounds as well as careful, technical percussion (performed by a mix of Tony Graci on drum set, Steve Shapiro on vibraphone, and Alex Alexander and Manuel Carro on hand percussion), leaving the listener to enjoy an overall relaxed atmosphere.

Flugelhorn is Kiku's primary melodic instrument of choice, accompanied very well by a clean and articulate guitar (Julian Harris), strikingly well blended in octaves or call-and-response moments. Muted trumpet is occasionally used for diversity and interjections -- a somewhat unnecessary touch, as it sticks out a bit much. While the critical listener can pick up a lot of clever, subtle diversity, the casual listener will leave the listening experience feeling like most of the tracks sound similar in cool style and mellow tempo.

While tempo and atmosphere seem similar for many tracks, there are also distinct mood changed between pieces, ranging from major and uplifting ("You Too") to dark and pulsing ("Confidential Obituary"). Personally, as a lover of faster and traditional bebop and hardbop, I feel many of the tracks stray towards the "cheesy" side of cool, but the variety in instrumentation, certain harmonic choices and the finesse in style make this CD well-worth a listen!

music review by
Susanna Lee

22 September 2012

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