Hideaki Tokunaga


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Vocalist was initially the first entry in Tokunaga's series of the same name, and so it's not terribly different from other the records in the cycle. The flipside is that it does as good a job as any of showcasing the man's approach, so ascetic it becomes archetypal. The album lives up to its name: its central point is Tokunaga's singing, with the rest being an afterthought, or so it may seem on the initial listen. Tokunaga is not a vocal virtuoso, and he doesn't care for theatrics; his delivery is focused on emotion, and there he succeeds -- his voice, while not showy, is consistently pleasant and, at its best, captivating, his restraint producing a touching effect; sometimes he's almost weepy, but never melodramatic. The songs themselves drift by about as fast as clouds on a windless day, Tokunaga supporting his singing mainly by simple piano melodies and delicate percussion: imagine the softest '80s jazz-tinged ballad, make it twice as mellow, and you're about there. However, writing it off as restaurant Muzak wouldn't be fair: Tokunaga actually provides some interesting, if discreet, arrangements, propping up the vocal/piano combo with a saxophone on "Olivia Wo Kikinagara," and lush flourishes of strings on the opening track, adding some soft rock guitar on a couple of tunes, and, in one case, even pulling off a folk/new age type of sound ("Ihoujin"). That doesn't give Vocalist any big hooks, but neither was it supposed to: the goodness of this album is in its soothing quality and the evening-bar introspective mood it creates. Sure, it's pieced together from stuff pioneered by others, from pop jazzmen to Michael Bolton, Phil Collins, and even Dire Straits, but Tokunaga has found his own way of telling the audience "it's gonna be alright" that's worth listening to.

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