Tag Archives: Sugawa Takashi


Sara Serpa

Vocal instrumentalist: Sara Serpa

GIG: WPAC theatre, 8:30pm, October 30

Sara Serpa vocals/compositions, Andre Matos guitar, Aaron Choulai piano, Sugawa Takashi bass, Tanaka Noritaka drums

Takashi, Serpa, Matos

Congruity: Serpa in sync with Matos, and Takashi on bass.

I am not big on vocalists, though I am always open to being persuaded otherwise. My usual, possibly crass, explanation is that vocals can get in the way of the instruments. Sara Serpa was ideal for my education, because she does not regard herself as a singer with a backing band, but as another instrumentalist. The reservation I had after hearing Serpa in this outing was that her vocal range did not seem to especially extensive and that in using her voice as an instrument she seemed to too closely follow the guitar playing of her husband, Andre Matos. No doubt Serpa was improvising, but her compositions seemed to call for a fair bit of congruity between her voice and that of Matos’s strings, so that I wished after a while that she would be more adventurous.

Sara Serpa

Improvising: Sara Serpa

In terms of my education on vocalists, this festival had great potential. I was later to hear two Kurt Elling concerts (the vocalist as showman) and on Cup eve I heard Kristin Berardi in a sensitive duo with James Sherlock. I was unable to hear Sarah McKenzie on Sunday with her sextet at the Pinsent Hotel. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that Elling’s vocal antics were spectacular, though I did wish for less of the zany humour and more songs to celebrate the agility and range, and just the pure sound, of his voice. And Berardi’s delightful outing had much more of the voice as superb instrument that I had hoped Serpa would deliver.

Sara Serpa

Capturing the giants: Sara Serpa with Sugawa Takashi

Serpa, from Portugal but now living in New York, opened with Ten Long Days of Rain, written in Boston. Then followed Sequoia Gigantes, inspired by a description of the giant redwood trees in John Steinbeck’s novel Travels with Charley. Serpa introduced the song eloquently as an attempt to capture “the essence of being around these trees — peaceful and yet intimidating”, then quoted a few lines from the book. This was one of Serpa’s pieces that I felt really captured the feeling well.

Sara Serpa

Conveying anguish: Sara Serpa

Her next composition, Praia, she said loosely translated as “beach”. Serpa seemed to sing partly in Portuguese and part vocalese. This was followed by a fado — a traditional Portuguese form Serpa said dealt with the challenges of longing for and loving someone who does not love you — entitled S’em Razao (Without A Reason). Her voice certainly conveyed anguish.

Andre Matos

In a chord with Serpa: Andre Matos

Matos alone accompanied the vocalist for Acerta Passo, by Pixinguinha, which was roughly translated as “catch up”. In this Serpa’s voice seemed tiny and fragile as she attained notes in a higher register. Then she sang Julia, from the Beatles White Album. This was sung in English, her voice blaring out at higher volumes in parts. I did not think this treatment of the song worked all that well.

The set finished with Gold-Digging Ants, which was part vocalese, part doo-wop.

Choulai, Serpa, Takashi

Incongruity of attire: Choulai, Serpa, Takashi

All I could think of at the end was the incongruity of Aaron Choulai in his American football top (or baseball?) at the piano and the comparatively formal attire of the singer. But that also applied to Choulai’s other concerts with the Japanese musicians. Of course it is immaterial.


Sugawa Takashi

Matos was suitably empathetic throughout and Choulai, Takashi and Noritaka were attentive and careful not to take any of the limelight.

Tanaka Noritaka

Tanaka Noritaka

I suppose I was a little disappointed in Serpa’s concert, given the excited reviews I’d read. She seems to prefer to avoid vocal gymnastics. Perhaps she could be a little more adventurous in her improvisation using her chosen instrument.


Yoshimoto Akihiro and Komano Itsumi

Independent: Yoshimoto Akihiro on tenor and Komano Itsumi on trombone.

GIG: WPAC Theatre, 3pm, October 30

Aaron Choulai piano, Yoshimoto Akihiro tenor sax, Komano Itsumi trombone, Sugawa Takashi bass, Tanaka Noritaka drums.

IT RARELY works to arrive late at a gig. And it is equally not a great idea to leave a concert halfway through in order to hear something else. But at festivals clashes often occur, so these less-than-ideal late arrivals and early departures are inevitable. In this case I was late because, to quote former police comissioner Christine Nixon, “I had to eat”. It was a pity because Sisia Natuna was into its third piece, Iriguchi, when I arrived, having missed Beer Gardener and Korema. After listening for a few minutes I was wishing I’d been there earlier.

Sugawa Takahashi on bass and Yoshimoto Yakihiro on tenor

Complexity: Sugawa Takahashi on bass and Yoshimoto Yakihiro on tenor.

The quintet’s playing was complex and had a relentless quality to it in the next piece, ATO 23:5. The sax and ‘bone contributions were strong and independent in what seemed to be a musical saga or journey. Choulai pointed out that Komano Itsumi was playing despite the pain she was experiencing from a slipped disk — a heroic effort.

Kitsamo Itsumi

Playing in pain: Kitsamo Itsumi

In the final piece, Yokka Yoi, which Choulai said could be roughly translated as a four-day hangover, there were powerful harmonies and rhythms and plenty of expression despite the limited variation in dynamics. I was trying to work out whether I could pick up distinctively Japanese aspects to this group’s playing, but if there were any they eluded me. Listeners familiar with Japanese music would have done better, no doubt. The empathy between Sugawa Takashi on bass and Tanaka Noritaka on drums was evident.

Tanaka Noritaka

Empathy: Tanaka Noritaka on drums.

I would have been happy for the set to be extended — it was full of interest.

Aaron Choulai

Flamboyant: Aaron Choulai

I first saw Aaron Choulai in the Commercial Hotel many years ago. He was playing keyboards with Blues Before Sunrise. Born in Papua New Guinea, the pianist/composer has always been an interesting, flamboyant character. He has spent the past two years in Japan, exploring the application of Japanese aesthetics to music. In this outing, clad in an informal sports shirt that seemed to contrast sharply with the more formal dress of the other band members, the pianist seemed at home among some of Japan’s talented young musicians.