Every now and then an artist comes into
focus from the static that defines most disposable J-pop. The 25 year-old Kyoto native,
Bird, is one such artist. With a voice that' cool and understated, where many Japanese
singers sound like they're trying too hard, Bird's goes down well with Western ears.
Bird's recent success has come awfully fast for an artist who didn't record her debut
single until last year. Discovered singing in a jazz club in Osaka by Mondo Grosso
producer Shunichi Osawa (who seems to be everywhere this year), Bird proved to be the
answer to Osawa's search for a singer for his Japanese Sound Project. Giving her the stage
name "Bird" for the delicate quality of her voice, he immediately signed her to
his RealEyes label, releasing the song "Souls" in 1999.
Bird's self-titled debut album followed later in the year, and she soon introduced herself
in a nationwide tour that sold out at all venues. The album, meanwhile, went on to sell
over 700,000 copies.
Her just issued second album Mind Travel has got to be one of, if not the best
J-pop releases of the year. The album fuses Bird's clear, confident voice and imaginative
lyrics with shimmering dance, Latin, reggae and jazz-influenced tracks composed by the
prolific Osawa. Contributions also come from from poet Shuntaro Tanigawa and rapper Twigy.
From the feathery grooves of the opening song "Mind Travel" to the breezy bossa
nova feel of "Daydream" to the mellow reggae of "Sakura", Bird-who
cites Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, and Janis Joplin as inspirations-demonstrates
versatility unequaled by most idoru singers, including the much-ballyhooed Hikaru
Consider this the beginning of what should prove to be a long and fruitful career.
Bird plays NHK Hall on
January 24-25. See listings for