Kaori Kobayashi – Solar

Kaori Kobayashi – Solar – 4/5

Yes, it would appear as though its time for me to crank out another overdue review from the artist capable of reviving my interest in the unfortunately underestimated instrument, the saxophone. Whilst capable of superb melodies my interest has been largely superficial, its use often slammed directly into that 'softcore porn' sensuality displayed by Kenny G, or the likes of John Zorn who proves you can wank off with a sax just as readily as a guitar, and so perhaps unsurprisingly I've long since thought it limited to one side or the other. And once more it appears that the Japanese are showing me otherwise for only with their slightly warped sense of jazz could fusion and hard-bop be combined so seamlessly (and only with a face this adorable would I have listened long enough to shatter my previous misconceptions).

Everything remains remarkably smooth and fluid with production left rather minimal allowing for a very natural fluctuation in both volume and pitch, and whilst the saxophone naturally becomes the albums centrepiece is certainly not alone in the composition; the creative drumming often packed with various fills, always mixing up the pace, right down to the occasional guitar solo and romantic and delicate keyboards, all demonstrating consideration. But as important this creativity is to the music, it is never traded for melody; never displayed outright for its own sake and none other, and the result takes on an almost ambient like quality, the subtle and yet simple melodies hypnotically washing over you in waves.

I'm almost certain that from a technical perspective there are many with abilities surpassing this woman of her mid-20s, but raw ability isn't the only thing to look for in a musician. Even with her covers of George Bensons “Nothings Gonna Change my Love For You” and Shanice's “I Love Your Smile,” both cheesy romantic tracks of epic proportions, she succeeds in revitalising them with the new instrument, making a far better job than most of straddling the genres knife edge with “Never Gonna Give You Up” on one side and on the other a softcore porn director's eager stare just a short fall away. And that's precisely what works for this album, finding that compromise and never going over the top with one aspect so as to forget another; never feeling alone in the composition but retaining focus, maintaining a catchy melody without forgetting the creativity, and adding just the right level of romantic cheese to still remain perfectly listenable.

Highlights: Bird Island, Sunset Ocean, Smokey