The collaboration between the BBE record label and curators of the excellent J-Jazz series has given many people an opportunity to hear some of the best independently released deep Japanese jazz from a specific timeline, illuminating the incredibly talented musicians who had forged a sound and identity, after the foundations had been laid by the earlier influencers and protagonists.
Curators Tony Higgins and Mike Pevan have curated the J-Jazz series, bringing to light some incredible music from the important transitional period in Japan between the years of 1969 and 1984. Albums such as Tohru Aizawa Quartet’s ‘Tachibana Vol. 1’, Miyasaka + 5’s ‘Animals Garden’, and Makoto Terashita’s ‘Topology’ featuring Harold Land opens up a welcome interest of the rich and deeper side of jazz. The hidden gems that were probably championed by the many jazz record bars in Japan, run by serious enthusiasts, but never reached a wider audience because of their obscurity.
This seventh release from the J-Jazz series is Shintaro Quintet’s private press release ‘Evolution’. It’s another well-chosen release that comes with superb packaging, high sound quality and some interesting sleeve notes which give a fascinating in-depth insight into the music and the musicians in Japan within the specified time period.
Anyone who managed to track down the first volume of the J-Jazz compilation, released in 2018, will be familiar with the sublime modal piece ‘A Blind Man’; one of the five compositions on the album; all written by the leader and bassist Shintaro Nakamura. Recorded in New York, the one-off recording by bassist Shintaro Nakamura and his quintet features the brilliant trumpeter Shunzo Ohno, who has played on many of the quintessential Japanese jazz albums of the early 1970s and featured alongside Norman Connors on albums ‘You Are My Starship’ and ‘This Is Your Life’ to name just two.
The quintet features tenor saxophonist Robert Kenmotsu who gives a gutsy lyrical contrast for his pairing with Shunzo’s trumpet style, both springboarding off the weaving inventive drum patterns of Fukushi Tainaka and the composed supporting restraint of American pianist Jeff Jenkins. The subtle piano runs add a great texture and warmth that really compliments the front two, and overall, the dynamics within the quintet add something extra special and synergy which brings out the best of each composition.
‘Future On You’ is an uptempo reflective composition. Trumpeter Shunzo Ohno brings joyful exuberance to the piece with some immense playing throughout and his exchanges with tenor saxophonist Bob Kenmotsu’s deep lyrical passages add a welcome spark and touch of the Jazz Messengers style to the arrangement. Drummer Fukushi Tainaka’s inventive weaving patterns ark and bend with the long gliding run by pianist Jeff Jenkins and there seems a real understanding between all the musicians that usually comes with more sessions together.
‘Don’t Forget Me’ is a warm modal waltz piece with some graceful lyrical exchanges between trumpeter Shunzo Ohno and saxophonist Bob Kenmotsu and some sensitive touches by pianist Jeff Jenkins but it’s really the trumpeter Shunzo Ohno who takes centre stage on this piece. It’s a superb lights down low affair.
Shintaro’s Quintet exemplifies the quality, composure and depth of jazz recorded between 1969-1984 by Japanese artists. Another welcome release by BBE and curators Tony Higgins and Mike Pevan. Highly recommended!
Hideto Sasaki / Toshiyuki Sekine Quartet +1 ‘Stop Over’ 2LP/CD (BBE Music) 4/5
Miyasaka + 5 ‘Animals Garden’ 2LP/CD (BBE Music) 4/5
Makoto Terashita meets Harold Land ‘Topology’ 2LP/CD (BBE Music) 4/5
Tohru Aizawa Quartet ‘Tachibana Vol. 1’ 2LP/CD (BBE Music) 4/5
Koichi Matsukaze Trio + Toshiyuki Daitoku ‘Earth Mother’ 2LP/CD (BBE Music) 4/5
Various ‘J Jazz Volume 2 – Deep Modern Jazz from Japan 1969 – 1983’ 3LP/2CD (BBE Music) 5/5
Various ‘J Jazz – Deep Modern Jazz from Japan 1969-1984’ 3LP/CD (BBE Music) 5/5