Born to a Japanese father and a Polish mother, Yumi Ito is a young jazz vocalist, songwriter and composer based in Basel, Switzerland. As a classically trained pianist, the singer is also an accomplished bandleader who has already performed extensively on the European jazz circuit. Featuring eight new songs composed over a period of two years and arranged for an 11 piece outfit, Stardust Crystals is Yumi Ito’s third recording as a leader and was released on 20th November 2020 last on Unit Records.

Yumi Ito - Stardust Crystals (2020)
Yumi Ito – Stardust Crystals (2020)

We are all made of stardust crystals
Each one’s different and unique […]
Nobody really knows where all this leads to
We float and we break and we build
New mountains of white
Trying not to drown between melting ice floes  

Although rooted in the classical big band jazz idiom, Yumi Ito’s compositions quickly deviate from the well-worn paths of a traditional jazz vocal performance. From the outset, the title track’s classical strings introduction lays the groundwork for an impressive orchestral pop sound only to break into an enthralling and lavish vocalese section once the drums and brass instruments kick in.

A skilled arranger, Yumi Ito has surrounded herself with ten musicians representing seven different countries. In the course of the eight compositions, practically every member of the young cast gets a chance to shine and express themselves on their respective instruments through concise instrumental or solo sections.

Yumi Ito expertly weaves together an adventurous vocalese style with Sam Barnett’s alto saxophone on “Unwritten stories”. Enrique Oliver’s tenor saxophone shines on “What Seems to be” and “Old Redwood Tree”. With its chamber-music-style string intro (Victor Darmon on violin, Hugo Van Rechem on viola and Jo Flüeler on cello) – followed by a harp and vibraphone (Izabella Effenberg) duo and wordless vocals, “Ballad for the Unknown” is a lament for a nameless neighbour who died from a heroin overdose.

“Little Things” also equally marries a jazz rhythm section (Kuba Dworak on double bass and Phelan Burgoyne on drums) with sweeping strings, cascading classical harp (Esther Sévérac) and meandering flute (Marina Tantanozi). Venturing into avant-garde with a hint of theatrical cabaret music, the concluding track “Spaziergang in Prag” (Walk in Prague) sees the singer experiment with fantastical vocal acrobatics and improvisations.  

I wrote these songs to conserve the beauty of nature and togetherness.

The same interrogation runs throughout Stardust Crystals. “In the grand scheme of things we are just Stardust Crystals! But, why then, are we destroying our planet?” asks the musician. Attuned with the pressing environmental and societal concerns of a younger generation, Yumi Ito nevertheless strikes an optimistic note with this superbly arranged collection of musical gems brimming with ideas and thrilling instrumental breaks at every turn, all “falling quietly from the sky / whirling around in eternity”.