Photo by Eugene Oh
You may never have heard of Gothenburg, Sweden, but sooner or later you’ll hear of Yukimi Nagano. “It’s kind of dull and grey,” says the twentysomething jazz singer, describing her hometown, and using terms that are the exact opposite of her voice.
“But it’s also a great place if you want to be creative; it’s peaceful and down to earth, and there’s a lot of music going on, from classical, to jazz, to house, to Gothenburg death metal.”
At age fifteen Yukimi was performing with friends in a jazz contest when her rich, deceptively mature voice floated into the eardrums of the Stockholmbased nu jazz duo Koop; a few years later she blew listeners away with the sublime “Summer Sun” on the Waltz for Koop LP. Legendary DJ Gilles Peterson called it one of the two songs that really make him happy. (Stevie Wonder did the other.)
Koop’s live version of “Never Let You Go” brings Carmen Lundy to mind, but Yukimi’s distinctive voice is difficult to reduce to soundalikes. With influences ranging from “Prince to Kraftwerk, Chaka Khan to John Coltrane,” her range, tone, and phrasing are breathtakingly unique: soulful, energetic, innovative, spiritual.
In addition to Koop she has been featured on records by house and nu jazz musicians including Swell Session, the Soul Serenaders, Stateless, and Hird. Her warm voice blends particularly well with Hird’s deep atmospheric jazz electronics, but Yukimi is returning to a foundation of live instrumentation with her solo project, in the works.
We first spotted Yukimi at a mixed-gig music venue on Avenue C, the type of place where the regulars have no problem talking through most of the acts; but once the quiet-looking girl got up on stage and started singing, the bar chatter dropped off instantly and she had everyone’s attention.
Yukimi has recently relocated to Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, where she likes the diversity but is quick to note complexities. “There’s just so much of everything that it [can be] distracting, but it really makes you realize what you want. I mean, either you go watch everyone else be creative, or you do something yourself!
“It’s not easy at all,” Yukimi continues. Easy, no; busy, yes—in a little over a month she’s had gigs with Hird in New York and San Francisco, and was heading out for four shows in Sweden and Moscow shortly after our interview.
The New York minute obfuscates a definitive release date for her debut solo work, but I know a bunch of people on Avenue C—and soon, crowds in San Francisco, Sweden, and Moscow—will be eager for the finished product.
To listen to Yukimi Nagano’s vocals for Koop’s “Summer Sun” go to her MySpace page.