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CD Review: Song To Fly by Yoko Kanno

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When you think about it, film composers are some of the most prolific artists out there. They compose and create (with the help of various collaborators and musicians) an album’s worth of music within just a few months at most. In the case of the upcoming remake of King Kong, James Newton Howard has been hired to compose the score in just weeks. It can take some artists years to create a new album but a film/TV composer is expected to create that much quality music in a limited timeframe. I know there are quite a few differences between a composer and an artist, but you can’t deny that the comparison is remarkable.

I mention this because I’ve sometimes wondered what would happen if a composer created music just for the sake of it. Danny Elfman, one of the greatest film composers working today, used to do this as a member of Oingo Boingo. However, I wonder what kind of music people like John Williams would create if they could just compose whatever they wanted. You can get an idea of this from Song To Fly, the only non-soundtrack album Yoko Kanno has done as a solo artist.

For those who may have read my reviews of prevous albums by Kanno, I don’t have to explain that Yoko Kanno is to anime what Danny Elfman is to movies. She has created tons and tons of music for many high-profile anime series such as Cowboy Bebop and Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex as well as live-action films like Kamikaze Girls and Ashura-jo no Hitomi. However, Song To Fly is not associated with any anime series or movie. It’s not associated with anything live-action either. While I have heard rumors that this album

Song To Fly is a short album. It only has 11 songs and is less than 48 minutes long. However, those 11 songs contain the creativity, beauty, and quirkiness that only Yoko Kanno can provide. The sounds of the Cosmic Voices of Bulgaria begin the album on the song “Atomic Bird.” Most of this song consists of only their voices. The only other instruments heard on the entire song are drums. The lack of instruments (and the fact that it is unclear what language is being sung) give the song a decidedly tribal feel. There are other unusual things to be found on this album as well. “Next Time” is just plain strange. The gravelly vocals of Franco Sansalone are complimented by music that sounds both old-world and circuslike. The lyrics, which include lines like “Comatose radios,” are just as strange as the rest of the song. There isn’t a more fitting song title than “ABC Mouse Parade,” a song that has vocals by Gabriela Robin. The song really does sound like a song that a parade of mice could sing. It’s light while at the same time being as over-the-top as good parade music is. Towards the end of the song, it breaks down into something very different (and more traditional) than the rest of the song.

“This Eden” is a wonderful song. There is an ethereal wonder and a baroque feel to this song, especially with the operatic vocals. Frequent Kanno collaborator Steve Conte puts in another reliable performance in the ballad “Nowhere And Everywhere.” Steve sings from the point of view of a spirit with lyrics such as “Don’t you know me?/I’m the one you used to talk to/You stopped believing/But still I followed/Everywhere you go.” Kanno collaborates with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra (and their chorus) on three songs. These songs are probably the best songs on the album. Kanno has worked with the Warsaw Philharmonic before on Escaflowne and Macross Plus. They make beautiful music together and it shows on this album. “The Man In The Desert” starts off slow, but builds into a wonderful cacophony of beautiful voices and beautiful music. “The Ship” is a song so wonderful that it’s a shame that it wasn’t in Escaflowne. In fact, I wonder if classical music fans could even deny its brief brilliance. The Warsaw Chorus puts in a wonderful a cappella performance of Kanno’s twist of “Hallejuah.” Jadwiga Rappé’s operatic vocals on the sparse “Lydia” end the album.

When someone has as large a body of work as Yoko Kanno does, it’s hard to not think of other work that they’ve done as you listen to their songs. Also, it’s also easy to take great work for granted when it’s part of a large catalog. I first heard Song To Fly years ago on low-quality audio files and enjoyed it, although not as much as her other work. Now, after revisiting this album, I think it stands as one of the best works she has ever done. It is beautiful, epic, and strange. I sincerely hope that some company, whether it be Geneon, Bandai, or a label dealing with world music, brings this wonderful album to the United States sometime in the future.

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