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Lalah Hathaway

New-fashioned soul

Being the daughter of the late Donny Hathaway certainly got Lalah Hathaway in the door of the music business, but her shape-shifting career since debuting in 1990 has given her a much more diverse image than that of her ground-breaking father: not just urban soul, but pre-rock pop, fusion, and jazz standards. She's a kind of roots artist whose chosen baliliwick is an extension of the jazzy, improvisational ideas that the elder Hathaway explored in his legendary live sets, but infused with a more contemporary vibe. With Lalah's low alto and songs that hew the mid-tempo range, she could be mistaken for one of those slick post-New Jack City boy singers, albeit one who avoids dance music. She's the crisp lull after the quiet storm.

April 9 & 10 at 6:30 & 9:00 and April 14 & 15 at 5:00 & 8:00, Blue Note Tokyo, Aoyama. ¥9,000. Box office, 03-5485-0088.


Nick Lowe

Attitude rules

Though the 70s would have happened without Nick Lowe, they wouldn't have been as fun. Crack songwriter, sly singer, versatile bassist, innovative producer, Lowe has had an influence more lasting than his work as a solo artist, which is understandable given that his solo career never really took off. It might have had he swallowed his pride, patched up his differences with fellow roots-rocker Dave Edmunds, and maintained their band Rockpile, the most exciting British rock ensemble of the late 70s, and I'm counting the Attractions and the Rumour. A newcomer to Lowe's world would more likely get instant gratification from his first two solo albums, the standard for late 70s power pop which were recently rereleased. Since them, most of what Lowe has made is folky country or country folk, and while it doesn't approach his pop in terms of imagination and wit, it's better than I used to think it was. Just him and his guitar.

April 30 at 4:30 & 7:30 and May 1 at 7:00 & 9:30, Billboard Live Tokyo, Roppongi. ¥8,400 & ¥9,400. Box office, 03-3405-1133.


Charles Aznavour

An original by necessity

One of the true dramatic success stories in the annals of 20th century popular music, Charles Aznavour's position as the most emblematic male chanson singer is something of a misconception. In the years before his real breakthrough as an actor in the early 60s, his songs were considered too risque and his voice too limited. As with most second-generation immigrants (his Armenian parents fled the threat of massacre by the Turks) his only chance for gainful employment was in entertainment, and he did everything from driving Edith Piaf to performing in pickup nightclub acts. His long, involved, melodramatic love songs were composed to suit his voice, which didn't have much range, and thus it was difficult to sell them to other performers. Now, of course, Azanavour is an institution, more firmly established than the late Yves Montand or even Jacques Brel. This tour has been announced as his very last, so bring lots of Kleenex.

May 23 at 7:00, NHK Hall, Shibuya. ¥13,500-25,000. H.I.P., 03-3475-9999.


Leroy Hutson

You never knew

Known mainly as a man behind the scenes during the great flowering of urban soul in the 1970s, Leroy Hutson started out in the usual way, as a singer in various vocal groups who hung out in his Newark, New Jersey neighborhood. And like a lot of young black people his age, he went to Howard University, where his roommate was Donny Hathaway. They wrote Hathaway's breakout hit, "The Ghetto," together, a credit that eventually led him to replace Curtis Mayfield in the Impressions. In the middle of the decade, he, too, left the group and launched a solo career that wasn't as successful as Mayfield's, but he learned a lot about producing and helped give birth to a lot of big R&B hits in the late 70s and early 80s, after which he mostly disappeared. He's back now, and if you want to see how this urban soul thing is really done, check him out. Real soul freaks know he's the real thing.

May 3 & 5 at 4:30 & 7:30, Billboard Live Tokyo, Roppongi. ¥7,000 & ¥8,500. Box office, 03-3405-1133.


Nils Frahm

Drop your expectations

As a genre of music, "classical" has always been the most misleading. In people's minds' it conjures up the 18th and 19th centuries, though Steve Reich and Philip Glass records are filed under the name also. Now there's a coterie of electronica artists who labor as classical musicians though mostly what they do is improvisations. The German keyboardist Nils Frahm is probably the most successful of these, and he has collaborated with bona fide classical musicians like Peter Broderick and Anne Muller. Frahm's music differs from normal electronica in its attention to form and melody—in fact, his lates album is titled All Melody—but it often has the same effect as ambient music, and despite the title, the new album's main effect is sensory. It will be interesting to see what he does when he comes to Japan, and how his fans will react. Will they request "My Friend the Forest"?

May 23 at 7:30, Liquidroom, Ebisu. ¥7,500. Smash, 03-3444-6751.


At The Gates

Swedes croak louder

Death metal tends to be closely associated with Scandinavia, though if you asked a metalhead for a specific country they'd probably say Norway. At The Gates, which formed in 1990, pretty much invented death metal as we know it today, and they're Swedish, though they've become such an international standard bearer of the years that no one pays much attention to where they're from. Because they're purer in heart, they're also much more melodic than their peers to the west, who tend to be more into lyrics and mood than instrumental prowess. But as the group hit its peak in the late 90s it splintered into two formidable successors, The Haunted and Hide, both of which eclipsed the original band in the eyes and ears of new DM acolytes. Though they've occasionally reunited over the years, they seem to be back on track now that they've started releasing albums again. Accept no substitutes, especially if they're from Norway.

May 29 at 7:00, Tsutaya O-East, Shibuya. ¥7,800. Smash, 03-3444-6751.


Charlotte Gainsbourg

Breathy exactitude

One of the things Europe and Asia have in common is that popular artists can dip their toes into any number of creative endeavors without inviting derision. As the daughter of Gallic pop godhead Serge Gainsbourg, Charlotte Gainsbourg should have made her mark in music, but she became an actress first. Her music has certain qualities that support her rep as a part-time singer, but as a writer and performer she's personal and as revealing as she is in films. And because she sings with facility in both English and French the mood can sometimes shift in unexpected ways, from Yoko Ono-like industrial exactitude to ominously blurry pop. Her most appealing attribute is the way she taps the smokey romanticism that Europeans like Nico brought to rock in the 1960s, and it says a lot about Gainsbourg's artistry that she doesn't just interpret her lyrics but exposes herself them them. She's yearning and curious, not just vulnerable.

April 9 at 7:30, Ex Theater, Roppongi. ¥8,000 & ¥9,000. Creativeman, 03-3499-6669.



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