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Yumi Ito - Stardust Crystals (Album Review)

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

20 November 2020

Album Rating 4/5

Live Potential 4.5/5

Diversity in Songs 4/5

Favourite Songs Little Things, Ballad for the Unknown, Unwritten Stories

Yumi Ito’s Stardust Crystals unites genres and nations under a global love for nature. Her album features eleven musicians from eight different countries who seamlessly weave between jazz, neo-classical impressionism, art-pop and neo-soul. At times the music feels familiar, and other times wonderfully bizarre.

Yumi Ito is a Swiss-based Polish-Japanese singer-songwriter who worked on this project after winning the Montreux Jazz Vocal Competition. The album has been in the works for two years.

Stardust Crystals opens with the title track where the strings use broken chords to accompany Yumi Ito’s voice, in a cinematic chime.

There is something theatrical to the music in its initial impressions of neo-classicism and art-pop. Halfway through the opening track however the music breaks into the energy of neo-soul and jazz. Your head will begin to nod along.

‘Little Things’ was a particularly nice tune. It reminded me of Hiatus Kaiyote’s slower songs if you were to replace the electronic instrumentation with the build-up of an orchestra.

This orchestral makeup of the album really compliments the jazz and soul elements. The result feels like a soundtrack in dedication of the natural world. You really get the sense that Yumi Ito and the orchestra are working with this language of nature.

The percussion underscored it all nicely and Phelan Burgoyne’s drumming really shines through. It sounded highly jazz-influenced and felt at home against a more classical accompaniment.

The fifth track, ‘Unwritten Stories’, was another one of note, and quite possibly my favourite song of the album. It opens with Enrique Oliver’s bass clarinet and also featured some nice dialogue with the vibraphone played by Izabella Effenberg. It felt like a similar love letter to the natural world that the jazz genius Eric Dolphy had been writing. The tune also featured the scat singing of Yumi Ito, demonstrating her familiarity and skill in jazz vocals.

Songs like ‘Ballad for the Unknown’ and ‘Old Redwood Tree’ contained a beautiful ambience to them and worked nicely in between the more energetic tracks.

Stardust Crystals deal with various themes: nature, tragedy and melancholy.

“A friend breaks under the pressures of life and is confined to a mental institution... An unfamiliar neighbour dies of a heroin overdose... Absinthe transmutes the streets of Prague into a Kafka-esque maze...”

The last tune, Spaziergang in Prag, seems to relate to this last line. I got the sense of the 20th-century classical music from Europe and, at times Schoenberg-esque expressionism, but with the modern feel of today’s jazz. An unusual but wonderful combination.

Yumi Ito’s Stardust Crystals s a celebration of nature and a union of nations. The album has a cinematic scope to it and it defies convention.

In the strange year of 2020 for music and the wider world, Yumi Ito and her musicians remind us that ‘in the grand scheme of things we are just Stardust Crystals!'


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