:: JAZZ/NOT-JAZZ ::
Has been pretty well documented over the years. Articles, editorials, entire books have been dedicated to telling the story of a country that – at the middle of the 20th century – made peace with America… and developed a strong and lasting passion for her indigenous classical music… Jazz.
In 1945, Japan began a love affair with the sound and spirit of a music borne, built and expressed by the oppressed. Half a world away, in the aftermath of a terrible conflict with the United States, the island nation clearly found connection with the voice of the ultimate American underdog, Black America.
Soon, many of Tokyo and Osaka’s city centers were dotted with Jazz Clubs and Jazu Kissa – cozy cafés, outfitted with state-of-the-art sound systems – where one could sit and listen to their favorite Black music while sipping on their favorite black [coffee] brew.
A good amount of these original spots and spaces still exist all across Japan, while their offspring and predecessors have even popped up around the world – a beautiful reflection of what art and culture can do for the world that warfare will never manage.
The phenomenon of the EU/USA “Listening Bar” is still somewhat new [and novel]. American’s tend to like to [hear themselves] speak… so we’re still working on the ‘listening’ part, in most cases.
Still, if you can make your way to one of these new-fangled music boxes, you really might enjoy it. We of THE NONSEMBLE get out to one as often as we can. [Even hosting the odd night, here’n’there, every now and again]
J-JAZZ :: HEAR HERE – AND THERE
While we do love our history – and are always down for a deeper dig – THE NONSEMBLE is definitively not an archival endeavour. We tend to focus on the sounds of this new millennium. That said… for a few more cool tunes from Japanese Jazz gone by, we do have a couple of “SELECTS” for you to check out and get into, if you’re of the mind:
The incredibly well-thought-out archival compilation: ‘J Jazz – Deep Modern Jazz from Japan 1969-1984’, lovingly curated and crafted by Tony Higgens and Mike Peden for Barely Breaking Even, back in 2018 and the more specific and the equally note-worthy LPs, ‘SPIRITUAL JAZZ 8: JAPAN’ 1+2 [Jazzman -2018]
Meanwhile, we have a nice collection of more recent progressive artists in and out of Japan that we’d love to offer up – and an amazing 20-year crop of great tunes and albums to share, as we are wont.
Way back in the when’s-days, in the earliest notions of THE NONSEMBLE, our fledgling founding forum was already in deep dig mode and our standing connections with like-minded folk around the world put us in a great position to have an extra ear or few to the beats in the streets when it came to Jazz, Not Jazz and related genres [D’n’B, Alt.Hip-Hop, Broken, Neo-Soul, remnants of Acid Jazz, &c.], Far too many musiques to mention or miss, really.
At that very special time [at the turn of the century], many of our international co-conspirators were also leaning hard into the jazz influences that had helped us all to where we were, musically.
Before co-founding THE NONSEMBLE, Darren “Daz-I-Kue” Benjamin was very busy behind the beats, behind the decks and behind the [studio] desks, handling his end of things as a co-founder and co-anchor of the seminal West London Broken Beat or ‘Bruk’ world. [More on that – and on the Daz-I-Kue family connection with JazzRe:freshed – soon come!]
In the 1990’s, as Trip Hop and several other [often soul-driven, jazz-tangent] subgenres were born, coming into the fore and burning up dance floors …
Artists like [U.F.O.] United Future Organization, which featured Japanese Jazz Cats, Tadashi Yabe and [former] member, Toshio Matsuura joined the likes of DJ Krush and others that were intimating Jazz, Hip-Hop and even Brazilian roots in their meticulous music. In the years between, there are a few true classics of a kind that come to mind.
Future Jazz and Broken Boogie Bangers – Well-played, boldly beats, blended and highly recommended. Tracks, like the 2004 big banger, “Samurai”, by Ryota Nozaki aka Jazztronik and the hidden gems that many may have missed, such as Yukihiro Fukutomi and his floor-burner, “Action”!!!
FROM THEN UNTIL THIS…
Still… it wasn’t until the end of that decade and around the beginning of the next that the seeds of THE NONSEMBLE were sown… and when we looked to the east… there were some sights to see on the horizon from across the sea….
THE OKINO BROTHERS
:: KYOTO JAZZ MASSIVE
It was by way of those music scenes that we first came across the brothers Shuya+Yoshihiro Okino, just around the time that they were blessed by none other than UK music taste-maker, Gilles Peterson – to be forever known as KYOTO JAZZ MASSIVE.
It was through the KJM portal that some of us first heard of or about Hajime Yoshizawa, Sleep Walker and many other native Japanese talents that have had and held our attention ever since.
Twenty years in and KJM, along with their core community still represent a strong and serious step into generation-next Japanese Jazz!
In the last few years alone, the Shuya Okino and his KYOTO JAZZ SEXTET has released top-notch and perhaps timeless projects ranging from spiritual and even ‘pretty’ Jazz through styles more reminiscent of the early days when the Kyoto crew first linked to sync with German stalwart, Compost Records, hard-driven, rhythmic, danceable tunes that would work as well on any dancefloor as they might do at The Blue Note jazz club… with a few remixes thrown into the mix for measure.
Aside from their own productions, record label and worldwide DJ careers, between the two of them, the brothers also hold down their own club “The Room” in the Shibuya District of Tokyo and Shuya has had a long run as Creative Director of his own Tokyo [Crossover] Jazz Festival, which takes place in the Late Summer / Early Fall Season, annually.
Meanwhile, as is the case everywhere in the world, Jazz is only more recently becoming as larger a part of the larger, ‘Pop’ music market in Japan [Germany, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Scandinavia, South Africa… and so on]. As a result, a number of our favorite J-Jazz bands came, saw and sauntered off over a decade ago…
However, while those bands may be no more, more than a few of the individual leaders and players are well worth watching and waiting for… look into…
NEW NOW NEXT :: J-JAZZ – TODAY.
Contrary to recent, rampant and ridiculous rumors, Jazz is NOT “dead”… Not in Japan [Not in America, not in the world and/or not in general]. As we like to say here at HQ…JAZZ IS “ALIVE’N’THRIVIN’!”
These days, the Jazz/Not-Jazz traditions in Japan hold as strong as ever and it isn’t hard set in the bedrock of jazz history. Innovation and elevation are part and parcel. Neo-Traditional Jazz outfits such as the aforementioned Kyoto Jazz Sextet stand shoulder to shoulder with Punk Jazz champions, Soil & “Pimp” Sessions return to rock us with their long-form project, “OUTSIDE” a crazy collection of songs and shorts the boys have put together as the accompanying soundtrack to the new BEM anime.
A few J-Jazz journeymen are back at the front. The electric eclectic sounds are the latest slick summer single from Mouse on The Keys, ‘Mind’ and/or the staccato master piece out of Re-Trick, ‘After All’.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of brand new artists and projects, as well:
Mark de Clive-Lowe, the genre-jumping half Japanese half Kiwi kingsman has come a long way from his days of broken beats and keyboard cameos. As an early statesman of the international “Bruk-Step” scene, MdCL has gone from bedroom beatmaker, to one man band to… being – quite literally – one of the singularly most adaptive and inventive post-modern jazz cats in the world.
A piano player [and perhaps a prodigy] since his earliest days growing up in New Zealand, de Clive-Lowe has, in more recent years, taken his playing, his compositions and his production talents up ten notches.
His double-LP “Heritage”, [parts I + II] was released in two parts on Ropeadope.
Inspired and driven by his maternal Japanese bloodline, the project is one part cherry-blossom infused post-contemporary Japanese jazz and one part electronic future jazz fusion.
The likes of which Mark has been known for since…well – since the time that Mark has become known.
Although the music was conceived, written and recorded in the States, the soul of the man – and his passion project – were deep in his roots of Japan. Taking the ideas and ideal a step or few further, Mark took the opportunity to record another EP and LP while on one of his many trips to his motherland. with the help of Redbull studios and a band of brothers he gave the fitting name, The Ronin Arkestra. The resulting works – the ‘First Meeting’ EP and ‘Sonkei’ LP – are a rare treat. Modern Jazz, based upon, tempered with and steeped in Japanese tradition and culture the imbued with the hues of African rhythms and American blues.
LO-FI TRIP HOP AND PROTO JAZZ BOP
The nonlinear lineage of DJ KRUSH continues, while a number of his contemporaries headed off in different directions and on to parts unknown, more friends and spiritual kin, such as the JazzySport crew, along with Cro-Magnon, the late, great nuJabeS and many more have kept a lead of threads to, into and through the new. JazzySport cohort, Naoito has dug in deep enough to strike gold with his latest EP, dotA – a Japanese journey into AfroBeat, Spiritual Jazz and even the odd bit of broken beats and pieces.
In a contemporary jazz community born and raised on styles upon styles of music and muses, not all roads lead to and from the same place[s]. Sure, there are players that were born and raised listening to jazz… just as some started out as Hip-Hop or House heads… Funk, Soul, Disco… all our influences inform our art.
So – what if you were fed a rock-steady diet of Black Sabbath, Frank Zappa, Bad Brains or… well, in that case – you might pick up a Strat, a Fender or a Horn – and have it your very own way.
Such is the case with those Punk-Jazz super stalwarts, from the Soil & “Pimp” Sessions. While they have continued providing their sub-genre jumping brand of Jazz / Not-Jazz since they arrived on the scene many moons ago… and they are still not alone in their ad/venture.
The band now known as the De Lorians and their pointedly Zappa-esque Psychedelic Prog-Jazz will keep you awake and in awe with each track of their debut album… imaginatively titled – De Lorians. This record jumps, bumps and thumps… also – if you get a chance. Buy the special vinyl release. Beautiful collectors edition.
Rocking even harder, Kagero fuses, forges and all but forces a Black Metal sensibility into their frenetic and energetic Not-Jazz creations. It isn’t hard to imagine their show… a dark room, filled to the tip-top with hard-rocking true-to-life music lovers. Rocking out in a style of sophisticated head-banging as intricate and as intense as the molten lava spewing from the speakers. Their latest album, VI, is one for the records!
Beat-banging broken jazz from far beyond, adventurous experimentation from future fusionists, Hip Hop infused Hard Bop Blacktronica, Big Band Electro-Boogie, Post
Black Metal Punk Jazz… Japanese Jazz/Not-Jazz – You got a lot of options.
You want to go a bit deeper into the history and heritage of Jazz in Japan? WAX POETICS will be the key to that rabbit hole! Their in depth article on Jazz in Japan is on par with all the rest of the iconic outlet’s writing and subject matter.