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Miho Wada - Para Ti (Florestar)

It's always nice when a record falls into your lap from nowhere and immediately confirms itself as a lifelong favourite. I was prompted to listen to Miho Wada's PARA TI after reading her name in several jazz journals and noting that she belongs to that, nowadays all too rare species, the jazz flautist. Thanks, in part, to legendary Anchorman Ron Burgundy, the jazz flute seems to have rolled into the groove cut by the cheesier side of jazz, often being regarded as one of the stand-out instruments of 'light' and 'smooth' jazz. I, however, have always been a dedicated member of the Jazz Flute Appreciation Society, forcing Eric Dolphy and Herbie Mann albums upon those who insist on sullying the instrument's status, before reminding them of the genius of Ian Anderson. Thanks to Miho Wada, I now have another reason to fight for the cause.

A brief glance at this five-track EP may result in some confusion. Tokyo-born, New Zealand-based Miho, with pink hair, pigtails and striped stockings, looks like she's just emerged from the pages of a Japanese Manga. Indeed, Miho is leading a self-confessed double life, releasing a handful of jazz recordings whilst also performing with her wonderfully-named Japanese Punk outfit, Miho Wada & The Shit Fight. But never mind the punk – the five tracks on PARA TI explore a range of other, perhaps more palatable musical influences.

Bailamos is a buoyant, feel-good opener that not only introduces Miho's bright, lilting flute but also acquaints the listener with the raw and graceful violin playing of Claire MacFarlane and Pascal Roggen. And there's an almost anticipated shift to a more traditional folk style with the second track, Fancy Tango, which demonstrates Miho's ability to blend several styles of international folk music with her own brand of Eastern jazz. The track also benefits from the effervescent, charged piano of Takumi Motokawa.

There's another shift with Welcome Home, this time into a more mainstream, swing style, featuring the stunning clarinet of Mark Dennison. Surely the thirst of any jazz-fan's ears are quenched with this track's catchy melody and wide jazz orchestra production.

Cats Out presents another jazzy production, this time with a cartoon feel that's reminiscent of Raymond Scott and, at times, Vince Guaraldi. Again, each separate instrument is given its moment to shine, particularly that lovely, scraping electric violin that perfectly captures the feline nature of this mischievous little piece.

The EP closes with Los Dos, complete with improvised solos from each musician, notably Miho herself who finds her most comfortable foothold in the rhythm of this Latin-flavoured, dance-inspiring climax.

With all that style-shifting, it may come as no surprise that PARA TI was released to accompany an educational score-book, providing students of Miho Wada with a range of improvisational exercises. The EP, however, is gaining interest in its own right; and rightly so. Whilst this EP will, no doubt, sit snugly on my iPod for many years to come, I look forward to further outings from this intriguing and vibrant new artist. 

Liam Wilkinson
Northern Sky