Yuka Honda Group
Centro Zo, Catania, Italy
Feb. 1, 2007

One of the "trendy" groups of the US scene - better said: New York scene - of the mid-90s, the line-up called Cibo Matto (which in some ways could placed alongside the group known as Pizzicato Five) saw Yuka Honda as its co-leader. Having closed that chapter, after releasing two CDs on John Zorn's Tzadik label, Yuka Honda arrives in my town backed by a large group "that'll exclusively play in Catania", with tickets priced at just eight euros. Staying home is really impossible!

A clean stage, a clear instrumentation: on Honda's side, an old Roland Juno 106, an even older Fender Rhodes Electric Piano - it's the Seventy-Three model, then another synth whose make I can't seem to recognize; two Fender-style guitars, drums, an electric bass that to me looks just like a very old Fender Precision (hence, a nice round sound, perfect for finger-style), also a few mike stands.

There's a tiny crowd (= about 300) looking restless. In fact, it happens that the name of one of the musicians playing tonight is Sean Lennon, hence a certain air of "event" which has obviously played not a tiny part in calling here a tiny crowd (= about 300) where one can't help but notice some colourful characters one doesn't usually meet at regular rock concerts: there's a lady who looks quite a bit like Elisabetta Gregoraci, and other ladies who look a lot like other characters whose names I would know were I more familiar with certain TV programs and a specific type of calendars. I'll immediately say that Sean Lennon intelligently played a supporter role, with nice, tiny backing parts and nice, tiny guitar solos, and some background vocals that were perfect in their functionality.

The line-up is truly excellent: on drums, Kenny Wollesen keeps everything up, and also works in a colourful way, practically perfect in his use of sticks and mallets; playing the aforementioned electric bass, Trevor Dunn plays quite a lot of arpeggios, making quite a few moments that otherwise would have been on the poor side from a harmonic perspective quite rich-sounding; on trombone, Josh Roseman has lots of tasty solos with a jazz and blues flavour, and brings a much-needed timbral variety to the group; I already talked about Sean Lennon; also on guitar and backing vocals, Cameron Greider is good in his comping parts, and also in is Pink Floyd-like "space solos" which make extensive use of echo and bottleneck; the presence of singer Courtney Kaiser, whom I assume to be good, but who doesn't do much onstage, is in some ways quite mysterious.

There are two crucial ingredients here: on keyboards, Yuka Honda is a discreet presence, at times quite difficult to decipher, but without a doubt it's her who sits in the director chair, as it's obvious when she directs musicians or varies tempo and intensity; (lotsa) voice and (once in a while) violin, Petra Haden is the real reason this repertory works tonight (judging from the end-of-concerts announcements made by Yuka Honda I seemed to understand Haden's contribution to go well beyond a simple vocalist role). Melodies vary from something quite country-like to lyrical and peaceful climates which (maybe because I'm not really in the know about it) reminded me of Haco in her After Dinner period. It was pleasantly disconcerting, about half-way through the concert, to hear a nice song that could have appeared on Rubber Soul!

There were two big weak points (but nothing that a sympathetic record producer can't fix). First, some harmonic climates are really a bit too static, and also repetitive, robbing the atmosphere of some of its poetry. Then, too many "space moments", which I'm not terribly sure to be the best suited to bring variety to the music in the first place. Just to be on the perfection side, Haden's vocals were always very generous, but I'd say her best features to be her fine intonation and her command of shading, not drama made explicit - I mean, there's no need for her to power her way through.

Waiting for the CD to be released.

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2007

CloudsandClocks.net | Feb. 12, 2007