“Composer Makabe makes imaginative Japanese-folk–influenced jazz, weaving her shamisen-playing and vocals with diverse arrangements.” – Time Out New York

Vocalist-Composer Emi Makabe presents her debut album, featuring an all-star New York band with Vitor Gonçalves, Thomas Morgan and Kenny Wollesen.

Anniversary features Makabe in a set of original songs, which blend pop and Japanese folk melodies along with cross-cultural instrumentation and jazz improvisation.

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The album was released on October 30, 2020.

The intimate, alluring art of singer-composer and instrumentalist Emi Makabe is utterly individual, even as it resonates with inspirations ranging from Joni Mitchell and Theo Bleckmann to Japanese folk music and jazz improvisation. Born and raised in Japan but a decade-plus resident of New York, Makabe studied with the likes of Bleckmann, Jen Shyu and Judith Berkson, and she has become a presence on the city’s creative music scene, performing at the 55 Bar, Rockwood Music Hall, Shapeshifter Lab, St. Peter’s Church and the bygone Cornelia Street Café. She has also ventured to Europe, singing and playing her Japanese shamisen (a banjo-like instrument) in a duo with her husband, bassist Thomas Morgan, at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Now, she presents her debut album: Anniversary, to be released via Greenleaf Music on October 30, 2020. Anniversary features Emi on vocals and shamisen alongside a trio of New York jazz virtuosos: Morgan on bass, Vitor Gonçalves on piano/accordion and Kenny Wollesen on drums/vibraphone. The album presents Emi’s original songs – sung in English, Japanese and wordless vocalese – in airy, artful arrangements, with improvisation naturally part of the mix. Time Out New York has praised Emi’s music as “imaginative,” while New York Music Daily calls it “rapturous, adventurous.”

Anniversary has a subtly evocative yet unmistakably emotional undertow, one informed by romantic partnership as well as the new friends and missed family of the immigrant experience. “The title Anniversary has two meanings,” Emi explains. “I wrote the title song for my partner, Thomas, on our anniversary day, and it became a significant song for me. The album was also recorded just after the 10th anniversary of my move to New York from Japan, and its music was made in the context of my experience here with the musicians and people who support and inspire me. With deep appreciation, I dedicate this album to my parents and all of my family, friends and mentors.”

Emi grew up singing and playing multiple instruments, learning the Japanese folk styles of nagauta and minyo from her mother. The young musician was also drawn to The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. A revelation upon moving to New York was the jazz individualism of Betty Carter, “who opened up my mind to the possibilities of improvisation,” she says. In addition to the influence of Bleckmann’s lithe vocalism, Emi was also inspired by the vocalese of Meredith Monk and, later, Armenian-American singer Areni Agbabian. “I like using my voice as an instrument,” Emi says. “The melodies and syllables of Japanese folk music come out naturally, even subconsciously in my music.”

Along with the shamisen-laced singles “Treeing” and “Flash,” highlights of Anniversary include the jazzy, melody-rich “O Street,” the otherworldly “Mielcke” and the romantic-minded title track. The album also features Emi’s apt setting of “Chimney Sweeper,” the sad-eyed poem by William Blake about a child abandoned. “I have always loved William Blake,” she says. “His words stimulate my feelings and imagination. There’s a lot of possibility in his verses – you can see different worlds every time you read them.”

The arrangements on Anniversary conjure multiple worlds, too, and Emi is quick to characterize the album as having “an ensemble sound,” adding that the players “aren’t just accompanists. There’s a lot of improvisation. Vitor, Kenny and Thomas are so good that they always make the most of every piece, no matter how tricky. I have played with Vitor for almost a decade, ever since we were students at the City College of New York – he really knows my music. Vitor is from Brazil, and he has a strong rhythmic sensibility, which you can hear in songs like “Rino,” which was inspired by a solo trip I made to Salvador, Brazil. His accordion can also be so atmospheric, such as in “Mielcke,” with Kenny pairing wonderfully with him on vibes. For a singer, Kenny is really an ideal drummer, because he’s so versatile. He can play anything: rock, pop, jazz. As for Thomas, well, I agree with the great drummer Dan Weiss, who calls Thomas ‘Rock.’ He’s that way for me – solid, as well as such a sensitive musician, with a beautiful sound. I’m so pleased with how the four of us made this album together. And if this music helps uplift those who listen to it, nothing would make me happier.”

Track Details

1. Treeing (3:21)
2. Joy (7:23)
3. Chimney Sweeper (5:40)
4. Moon & I (4:52)
5. Something Love (4:54)
6. Flash (3:12)
7. I Saw The Light (3:53)
8. Mielcke (2:53)
9. O Street (3:37)
10. Rino (4:50)
11. Anniversary (3:49)


Emi Makabe, voice/shamisen
Vitor Gonçalves, piano/accordion
Thomas Morgan, double bass
Kenny Wollesen, drums/vibraphone

Production Credits

Recorded at Brooklyn Recording, New York City on August 25, 2018
Recording Engineers Andy Taub, Nate Mendelsohn, Akihiro Nishimura
Mixed by Nathaniel Morgan at Buckminster Palace
Mastered by Wayne Peet at Newzone Studio, Los Angeles
Design: Megumi Fujimura
Photography: ZUZU, Antonio Porcar Cano, Cristina Zuppa, Dave Farkas, David Schwartz
Executive Producer: Dave Douglas
Producer: Emi Makabe

All music and lyrics written by Emi Makabe (BMI) except “Chimney Sweeper,” music by Emi Makabe, lyrics by William Blake.
All lyrics are available at www.emimakabe.com

Press Inquiries

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