Album Review:

OK OK, Eating Mantis

Although vocalists ranging from Betty Carter to Ann Dyer to Kitty Brazelton have made exciting contributions to avant-garde jazz, the vast majority of avant-garde jazz recordings have been totally instrumental. So when a vocal-oriented CD that is relevant to avant-garde jazz comes along, one tends to take notice. Avant-garde jazz isn't the only ingredient on OK OK's vocal-oriented Eating Mantis; most of the material combines avant-garde jazz with avant-garde rock, and some fans of art rock and alternative rock are likely to take notice of this experimental recording. But avant-garde jazz is certainly a major part of the equation for OK OK, who have a major asset in lead singer Kyoko Kitamura. Singing primarily in English but occasionally detouring into Japanese, Kitamura is an expressive vocalist who knows how to be quirky and eccentric but is also quite musical. In fact, that is true of everyone in OK OK -- not only Kitamura, but also, clarinetist Michael McGinnis, guitarist Khabu Doug Young and drummer Tony Moreno. For all its eccentricity and oddball experimentation, Eating Mantis is a highly musical album. An inside/outside perspective defines this 2006 session, which chooses melody and harmony over atonal chaos and is a long way from the type of harshness and claustrophobic density that some free jazz is known for. Anyone who expects this 45-minute CD to be a blistering vocal equivalent of Charles Gayle or post-1965 John Coltrane will be disappointed, but those who are looking for something along the lines of Dyer or Brazelton will find a lot to appreciate on Eating Mantis -- which is a promising and engaging effort from this New York City-based foursome.

~ Alex Henderson, All Music Guide