Tohru Aizawa Quartet ‘Tachibana Vol. 1’ 2LP/CD/DIG (BBE) 4/5

The influence of spiritual jazz and especially the contribution of John Coltrane is very much in evidence on this album, which originally surfaced in 1975 in Japan, and is the second in the series of re-issues by BBE dedicated to jazz in Japan. It was released on Tachibana and serves as an introduction to what that label could offer and, moreover, affords European and North American jazz devotees the opportunity to hear young Japanese aficionados of modern jazz and their musical influences. Of note is that the group members all practiced other professions in their daily lives and these ranged from law to medicine and teaching. Leader and pianist Tohru Aizawa composed three of the five numbers on the album and from the sleeve note information, it seems that businessman, Koichi Negishi, was instrumental in bringing musicians and label manager together and was also in charge of a Jazz Kissa (or rough equivalent of a jazz café, something of a Japanese speciality), promoting concerts through a network of similar minded Kissaten. As a result, Japanese jazz listeners got to hear the likes of Stanley Cowell and Charles Tolliver, but also Thad Jones and the Mel Lewis Orchestra, and even veteran jazz singers such as Anita O’Day.

Again, as with the previous re-issue, one track finds its way onto the J-Jazz compilation and that is, ‘Dead Letter’, which starts as a medium paced trio number before tenor enters and the impressive polyrhythms from one of the brothers in the band, Tetsuya Morimura, who has clearly been influenced by Elvin Jones and Art Blakey, both of whom regularly toured Japan and were and still are much-loved by Japanese jazz connoisseurs. A favourite of this writer is the driving rhythm of ‘Sacrament’, which bears a resemblance to Coltrane’s ‘Crescent’ album and the saxophone work of the other brother, Kyoichiro Morimura, on soprano here has the same intensity of feeling to that of the early-mid 1960s Coltrane quartet. The extended solos of McCoy Tyner are evoked on the lengthy ‘Philosopher’s Stone’, which features Kyoichiro Morimura this time on tenor. Of the two Brazilian/Latin jazz covers, ‘La Fiesta’ works better and is taken at a more rapid tempo than the original, while the soprano saxophone work compares favourably with that of Joe Farrell on the Chick Corea-penned ECM original for Return to Forever. A little too fast for this listener’s ears is the take on ‘Samba de Orfeu’, which quite simply lacks variation, with the non-stop percussion and repeated piano vamp throughout.

You will have to judge for yourselves whether you regard the music contained within as either an efficient if unoriginal mimicry of the Coltrane sound, or rather something more original inspired by the intensity of those Coltrane quartet recordings and the later influences of aforementioned Strata East recording artists. The recording quality is, in general, fine, even if the drums sound a tad distant in places. With the extensive and indeed praiseworthy ten page booklet is included a translated personal note from Ikujiro Tachibana, label head, with Tony Higgins supplying additional and informative notes on the music musicians and jazz scene, with colour photos of the band as they were, and the leader today.

Tim Stenhouse