Samon Kawamura Translations Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

It’s simply an elegantly crafted example of its genre; cool and intelligent...

Louis Pattison 2007

No point in trying to understand Samon Kawamura from his nationality: half Japanese, half German, born in Berlin but raised in Tokyo, he’s your classic rootless kid – the sort that’s defined more by where he’s at than where he’s from. And where he’s at is hip-hop – soporific, jazzy instrumental hip hop that’s initially reminiscent of the Mo Wax catalogue, particularly the blunted beats of his countryman DJ Krush, but with occasional flashes of vision that hints at musical horizons that lay somewhere beyond your typical smoker’s choice fare.

While this is, unmistakably, an album of turntablism, Kawamura’s something more than a simple record-splicer. His starting point isn’t wax, but the piano, a conceit that gives Translations a strong and constant melodic undercurrent.

"All About You" lopes along with a distinct G-Funk feel, all flattened-out jeep beets and shimmering synths, and while as with all of Translations there’s no MC, chopped-up vocals simmer deep in the mix, mostly echoed out or obscured to the point of incoherence, but sometimes floating to the surface.

There’s more live instrumentation, too: Roberto Di Gioia adds subtle curls of live bass and keyboard that supply occasional, unexpected motion, while ‘'Destination Blue'’ is carried along on vocals from the album’s sole guest, Fumie from Berlin-based electronica duo Fleckfumie, as well as a minimal flute line that streaks free from Kawamura’s gentle piano trills.

If there’s a problem to Translations, it’s that Kawamura doesn’t often pick up the pace enough; "Astral", a tribute to Pharoah Sanders is no dark-hop stormer on the level of DJ Shadow’s "Stem", but its use of blasted brass and hectic, free-sounding percussion stands out as a definitely peak in this album’s rolling fabric. A few more robust, dynamic tracks would lift Translations into something quite special. As it is, it’s simply an elegantly crafted example of its genre; cool and intelligent, if never rarely capital-letter enough to transcend its role as good background music.

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