UA really doesn’t have much left to prove.
In a career that spans a decade, the adventurous Japanese jazz singer has sung in just about every conceivable genre — pop, jazz, world, rock, dub, electronica, even children’s music.
If she did an album of country covers, it would probably be one of the best country albums ever recorded.
So if Sun, UA’s fifth studio album as a solo artist, seems impenetrable, well — where else can UA go? It’s amazing she hasn’t arrived there sooner.
Despite all of her genre hopping, UA is, at heart, a jazz singer, and Sun is about as angular as be-bop can get.
She introduced a more live, organic sound with 2002’s Doroboo. Now, she’s taking it a step further, cutting her band loose to improvise, to occupy the spaces between tonality and rhythm.
In short, to get fucking noisy.
And UA herself isn’t afraid to sound, well, weird. On “papito”, barking dogs provide backing vocals. She gets pretty damn Mingus on the 7-minute “Bouga”, while on “Fatima to Semira” she babbles for two minutes before launching into the tune proper. Thing is, her band doesn’t follow, preferring instead to play arhythmically to her melody.
“Roma” evokes the kind of dark, sparse mood she explored on Doroboo, while “Ua Ua Rai Rai” finds UA singing extemporaneously over a full Indonesian orchestra.
“Strange” would be an understatement.
Even the so-called singles off the album — “Lightning” and “Odoru Tori to Kin no Ame” — don’t have much in the way of hooks. At least not on the level of “Senkoo” or “Kanashimi Johnny”.
In short, Sun is an album that can be greatly appreciated as a bold artistic statement. It doesn’t mean you actually like it.
It’s nice to see UA strive for the kind of wild artistic abandon her past work more than strongly indicated. It’s equally nice when she reigns those urges in to service a hook.
Hooks are in short supply on Sun, and the album demands a lot of thinking to appreciate fully.
But that’s OK — UA and her incredibly magnetic voice can pull it off. She makes even a thinking listener’s album seem effortless.
And that marks her greatest ability as an artist.