George Otsuka Quintet ‘Loving You George: Live at the Nemu Jazz Inn 1975’ LP/CD (WeWantSounds) 4/5

George Otsuka is a drummer whose collaborations over the years have been numerous and he is recognised in Japan as one of the most important post-bop drummers and there’s always something special on his recordings that never fails to grab your attention. The quintet setting on this classic reissue of ‘Loving You George’ provides a whole new level for the drummer/percussionist, whose late 1960’s trio outings added a different dimension as to be expected. The music of George Otsuka and Fumio Karashima contributed greatly to reinventing the Japanese sound of the 1970s and making an impact for the new wave of artists who added a new dimension to the sound. All six albums George Otsuka recorded with his quintet are rare pieces that showcase the wonderful post-bop sounds that have led to this cult album being warmly received for the first time as a reissue outside of Japan. The live album, recorded in 1975 at The Nemu Jazz Inn on the Japanese Bellwood label arrives via the WeWantSounds reissue label on both vinyl and CD. The album features four quality tracks, with three covers and one track written by the group’s pianist/keyboardist Fumio Karashima.

With the leader on drums, Mitsuaki Furuno on bass, Norio Ohno on percussion, Shozo Sasaki on sax, and Fumio Karashima on piano, ‘Loving You George’ adds something special to the music of Steve Kuhn, John Coltrane and Minnie Ripperton, whilst bringing the original ‘Little Island’ composition by pianist Fumio Karashima centre stage.

‘Loving You’ is a unique interpretation of Minnie Ripperton’s classic and most well-known song, starting with an almost Sun Ra keyboard feel launching into a light meandering funk rendition, with an easy summer feel without ever veering toward stayed territory. The loving nod is quite different and quite thematic in its delivery with an early Bob James feel. It serves as a welcome contrast to the other three driving arrangements and it’s a good platform for Mitsuaki Furuno’s lyrical bass notes and Fumio Karashima’s laid back keys to change the mood and tone and show another side to their excellent musicianship.

It’s difficult to top Steve Kuhn’s original fusion piece ‘Something Everywhere’ from his classic ECM ‘Trance’ album, yet the quintet really bring a new lease of life to the original with some soaring drums and darting weaving soprano saxophone adding to the energy with a sound akin to the great Justo Almario. The quintet all seem to be really enjoying this track and bassist Mitsuaki Furuno creates a bold and vibrant tone to the rhythm section whose frenetic pace never lets up. There’s an Art Blakey style solo and much more when George Otsuka steps up to entertain the audience.

‘Little Island’ begins with a slow-building modal piano solo by Furnio Karashima and there’s a real hook from the start. It’s a 12-minute epic that is beautifully written and the quintet adds a touch of class with each step. The inventive lyrical soprano sound that Shozo Sasaki brings to the composition adds a richness that complements the deeper bass and drum rhythm.

On the interpretation of John Coltrane’s classic ‘Miles’ Mode’ saxophonist, Shozo Sasaki switches to tenor from soprano and really stretches out with some flighted playing. The group are really swinging on the track with some dynamic drumming by leader George Otsuka adding the perfect platform for the infectious sweeping runs from pianist Fumio Karashima to play off. The light percussive top notes add welcome cosmetic touches to the driving bass, piano, drums and tenor and it’s the group’s respect for the great John Coltrane that emanates throughout the 9-minute interpretation.

‘Loving You George’ is a superb album and another important documentation of a time in Japan when the jazz transition was rapidly taking shape, with brave new innovators such as George Otsuka sculpting a sound, progressive and familiar, whilst breaking the mould. The music throughout is exceptional and deserves attention.

Mark Jones