Image © 2000 Pacific Moon
Eri Sugai (Vocals)
Image © 2000
photo courtesy Narumi Arai
(updated 10 December 2000) Japanese recording artist Eri Sugai's
(pronounced 'Elli S-guy') debut solo album is entitled Mai
(Pacific Moon Records (Japan) CHCB-10020, 2000). Even though her name
is not well known, many have probably listened to her singing voice.
With a strong affinity to both American pop music and the church, she
went into the music world. With her extensive musical talent and a
crystalline voice, Eri Sugai has provided music for more than two hundred
television commercials; she is an established commercial creator and vocalist
in Japan. Eri Sugai has contributed extensively to the Stella Mirus entitled
Air that we will be reviewing here soon. Interested readers may also
wish to begin exploring the latest recordings by Himekami that are performed
in a similar style.
Mai is a new agey human voice album lightly accompanied
by traditional percussion and other light instrumentation. The style is
similar to Adiemus in many ways and will likely appeal to those that are
enthusiastic over Miriam Stockley's vocal work. On Mai Eri Sugai
provides layer upon layer of stunning crystal clear vocals except on "Honen
Bushi" where Anna Sugar takes the lead. The album opens with the relaxing
tune "Horizon"; layers of Eri's vocals are underscored by a light
instrumental arrangement. From Eri's liner notes, "Mr Oh's Chinese flute
blows the Asian continent's wind into my chorus of specially coined
words." About "Honen Bushi," she wrote, "While I was listening to
Anna Sugar singing, I noticed that this melody consists of only one chord,
and I wondered how it would be if some harmony and Asian percussion was
added to it. By the time she had finished I had perfectly imagined
the style arrangements for this song." With obvious Oriental influences,
like "A Lullaby of Takeda," it is lovely.
Eri's vocals are much lighter and sensual than Anna Sugar's
and the contrast is everso evident in the opeing of "Konjaku Monogatari."
Contemporary instrumentals and Chinese flute interplay with Eri's
a capeppa vocalisations. The track most reminiscent of Adiemus' sound
is "Aqua." Performed only with vocals, it is the long version of the TV
commercial song for 'Nippon Kodo.' Eri wrote, "I created an arrangement
in which I used two types of voice and united them, and I put this into
the chorus." It is stunning. The album's title track, "Mai," is equally
inspiring and performed in the same, albeit more adventurous, style.
On "First Love" Eri provides vocalise in the style of the
Niko (a Chinese stringed instrument). Accompanied by piano alone before
the orchestra joins, the song further illustrates her vocal virtuousity.
Lovely vocalise by Eri Sugai and Anna Sugar blend with traditional
Asian instrumentation on the everso sensual new age track "Rakuen."
Layers of Eri's a capella vocals are supported only by light (hand
clapping) percussion in the upbeat track "A Song Of Birth." The
album concludes with the dynamic "China Rose." On the last two
tracks we found the vocal harmonies and further effects as amazing
as they were beautiful.
Eri Sugai told us, "I love singing and making
songs! Mai's clear and ethnic voice is personal investment
from my other studio work. Even though I use many styles of
singing, my heart is one." She continued with a metaphor, "Like
when we are in a room with a fireplace, like when we are in the
body of our monther, this music will keep you warm, well, happy
and in peace. I hope you enjoy them all."
Mai will be released outside of Japan in early 2001
and can be ordered from amazon.com
The album is a stunning testament to Eri Sugai's songwriting and vocal
talents. We were reminded instantly of Adiemus from first listen and
are certain that the album will appeal to Karl Jenkins and Miriam Stockley
enthusiasts. Certainly worth a trans-pacific or cross-country journey
and today's import prices, this album is a must listen!