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Cecile McLorin Salvant

Tradition and then some

One of the hallmarks of jazz singing over the past few decades is that its adherents are just as likely to have risen up through the conservatory as through the saloon circuit. Cecile McLorin Salvant, born in Miami to a French mother and a Haitian father, studied voice and theory before being accepted by the Darius Milhaud Conservatory in France, where she also studied law. In fact, it wasn't until she lived in Europe that she became interested in jazz, releasing her first album there before returning to the States and winning the top prize at the 2010 Thelonius Monk Jazz Vocal Competition. Since then, her recorded work has blended standards and originals, culminating in last year's Dreams and Daggers, which topped quite a few best-of-the-year lists, and not just those of jazz critics.

March 24 & 25 at 5:00 & 8:00 and March 26 at 6:30 & 9:00, Blue Note Tokyo, Aoyama. ¥7,500. Box office, 03-5485-0088.


Fifth Harmony

Four for one

Nowadays known more for their highly sexualized stage show than their ability to craft stellar pop songs, Fifth Harmony seems to have lost something when Camila Cabello bailed in 2016, reducing the girl group to a quartet. Having emerged from The X Factor in 2012, it was perhaps inevitable that they'd lose their mojo once the TV people stopped being involved, which is why the group's members get more attention on their SNS accounts than they do for their music. Though the performances are hot and steamy, the songs are mostly constructs of synth riffs that barely qualify as such. The listener is forced to fill in information that should have been supplied musically. Like post-Lisa TLC, this is clearly an attempt to please an audience that doesn't demand a lot except access, which says more about Fifth Harmony's fans than it does about the group, but that's show biz.

Feb. 28 & March 1 at 7:00, Toyosu Pit. ¥9,500. Udo, 03-3402-5999.


Fred Hersch

The mother of necessity

With his bookish demeanor and sensible specs, it's no surprise that pianist Fred Hersch entered music as an educator, though the list of students he's tutored, like Brad Mehldau and Ethan Iverson, gives some indication of just how potent his lessons were. As a performer, he's idiosyncratic in his own right, influenced on the one hand by technical giants like Oscar Peterson, and on the other by lyrical geniuses like Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal. HIV-positive, Hersch had to change his style and regimen after a bout with dementia put him in a coma in 2008, and since then he's mostly limited himself to solo performances, often centered on bossa nova themes, though he occasionally revives his beloved trio. He'll be by himself on this trip, and you should really check him out.

Feb. 22 & 23 at 6:30 & 9:00 and Feb. 24 at 5:00 & 8:00, Cotton Club, Yurakucho. ¥6,000-¥8,000. Box office, 03-3215-1555.


Father John Misty

Misanthropy as romanticism

A former member of Fleet Foxes who seems determined to take the piss out of that earnest 70s-worshipping folk-rock group, Josh Tillman is hard to take seriously, even as a prankster. His insufferable middle class loser act is couched in the kind of pop attitudes that used to color covers of Jimmy Webb songs. And while this works perfectly well when it's his own peccadilloes he's lancing, they sound bitter to a fault when he's picking apart his lover's sexual behavior. He's also peculiarly fond of the "f" word, as in using it to make dramatic points rather than verbal ones. The sarcasm tends to curdle into misanthropy that is only intensified by the ironic strings and floating Brian Wilson production values. He's a provocateur, all right, and an effective one. Last year, he was the sex god of Fuji Rock's Field of Heaven.

Feb. 15 at 8:00, Tsutaya O-East, Shibuya. ¥7,000. Smash, 03-3444-6751.


Hazel English

Poetry served

She's an Australian currently residing in Northern California, a singer-songwriter by inclination rather than compulsion. She came to the Bay Area to study literature and stayed to translate her poetry into song, and with the help of someone named Jackson Philiips made music that relies on basic guitar patterns, synths, and machine rhythms. The end result can initially sound like aural wallpaper, but English has a pop heart and as long as things are kept simple, she's able to get her point across through the appeal of her melodies and the quiet authority of her singing. Interestingly, the Japanese edition of her only album does not include the bonus track on the overseas version that sounds like something for the European dance market. Let's hope it's an outlier and not a preview of the show.

March 1 at 7:30, Circus Tokyo, Shibuya. ¥4,300; March 2 at 7:30, Tsutaya O-nest, Shibuya. ¥4,300.


New Power Generation

Prince's rock (and rap)

As Prince's backing band, NPG, as its usually known, figured in two distinctive phases in the late superstar's career. They toiled with him from 1990 to 2013, which was perhaps the Purple One's most contentious periods, when he fought Warner Bros. on the one hand and on the other the forces of hip-hop, which initially seemed fell outside his particular musical ken. In fact, NPG was formed to help him bridge the divide, and on their own they tend toward a fusion of 70s funk and 80s rap that was more consistently engaging than Prince's forays into hip-hop. After Prince spent 2014-15 with a smaller all-female rock outfit, NPG returned to his side and helped him on last studio album. Needless to say, the lineup has changed often during the last 25 years, but you know exactly what to expect when the group hits Japan in March: Prince songs all over the place.

March 22 & 23 at 7:00 & 9:30, Billboard Live Tokyo, Roppongi. ¥10,500 & ¥12,000. Box office, 03-3405-1133.


Popspring 2018

Shiny happy people

Japan's annual springtime celebration of all that's bright, young, and game this year features the talents of Little MIx (pictured), the female vocal quartet who became the first group to win the UK's X Factor TV competition and made their proper recording debut in 2011, so they're practically jaded veterans by now; Liam Payne, yet another refugee from the One Direction camp and a fine pop songwriter in his own right, not to mention something of a clever producer; Superfruit, which is basically two members of the vocal powerhouse Pentatonix who pursue a more gay-friendly version of pop on the intriguing YouTube channel; Prettymuch, an American-Canadian boy band formed and coached by UK pop entrepreneur Simon Cowell who mostly cover established pop songs in their own exuberant way; and more to be announced.

March 24 at 12 noon, Makuhari Messe, Chiba. ¥11,000 & ¥19,000. Creativeman, 03-3499-6669.



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