Comfortably at odds

UA has never let herself rest in a comfort zone.

When she recorded three albums of mellow jazz pop, UA approached each project with an international perspective, peppering her songs with influences from Latin America, the Caribbean and Hawaiʻi.

In 2001, she unveiled AJICO, a rock supergroup formed with Blankey Jet City’s Asai Kenichi. The band’s studio album Fukamidori fits well within UA’s haunting repertoire, but AJICO rocked the songs out on tour, as evidenced on the live album AJICO Show.

UA is back to her solo work, and her fourth album, Doroboo, is her most challenging yet.

Doroboo revels in contradictory aesthetics. The songs on the album are some of UA’s longest, but most of them are stripped down to the barest instrumentation. UA’s voice is still drawn to clear melodies, but her backing band conjures up some strangely beautiful accompaniment.

On “Buenos Aires”, a string instrument — could be a violin, could not be — drones on long, single notes, calling to mind the sound of crickets on a summer evening.

“Door” ambles along on a shuffle rhythm slowed down to a snail’s pace. With so much space between beats, UA’s band liberally fills them in with rough slides on the guitar neck and abrupt interjections from a string quartet.

The album’s dramatic centerpiece is “Shukan”, a three-part piece which begins with a spoken word section, transforms into a lullaby, then concludes on a swing beat. It’s the most structurally ambitious song on the album but still manages to maintain a sense of minimalism.

Even though UA sounds comfortable stretching her creative boundaries, she also knows when to anchor them.

“Sekai” follows “Shukan”, and it’s the closest thing to a single on the entire album. Strangely enough, it’s not yet slated to be released as such.

“Senkoo”, which was released as a single, gets a total overhaul for the album. Tablas, guitars and zithers replace Rei Harakami’s slick electronica beats.

“Kanata” concludes the album, keeping with the quiet instrumentation throughout the album but offering beautiful melodies as well.

Doroboo manages to balance many goals seemingly at odds with each other. It’s an epic, dramatic album but also quiet and intense. It’s a sparse work but also jam-packed with ideas.

UA’s husky alto threads everything together, and Doroboo never falls apart. Perhaps the most admirable contradiction is how UA makes all this work seem easy.