J Jazz Volume 2–Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969–1983-Vinyl Version.

Label: BBE Music.

Release Date: ‘6th’ September 2019.

Music is a universal language,  and something that binds us all, regardless of what part of planet earth we’re from, music is ever present, and a part of our life. It’s hard to imagine daily life without a musical soundtrack that can include everything from rock and pop, to folk and  funk, right though to blues, country, soul, house and jazz, and its many sub-genres. That includes J Jazz which over the past few years, has grown in popularity. This has been helped by labels like BBE Music releasing J Jazz Volume 2–Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969–1983 as a three LP and two CD  set. It was compiled by Tony Higgins and Mike Peden, and will be released on the ‘6th’ of September 2019. J Jazz Volume 2–Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969–1983 documents what was an important time in the development of Japanese jazz.

From the late-sixties, right through to the early eighties was a crucial period for the development of modern jazz in Japan. During that period, many Japanese composers and musicians and bands released ambitious and innovative music that astounded those who heard it. This included the Mabumi Yamaguchi Quartet, Mabumi Yamaguchi Quartet,  Teru Sakamoto Trio Plus One, Toshiyuki Miyama and The New Herd With Masahiko Sato, Nobuo Hara and His Sharps and Flats Orchestra and Akira Miyazawa. This is a tantalising taste of what awaits the listener on J Jazz Volume 2–Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969–1983. Critics and record buyers on hearing this music were amazed how far Japanese jazz had come in such a short space of time.

It was only twenty or thirty years earlier that Japanese music fans were banned from listening to jazz during the World War II. However, after Japan’s defeat and unconditional surrender in August 1945, the wartime ban on jazz was lifted. 

Jazz fans were now able to hear jazz on the radio, and watch the allied forces bands play jazz in concert halls across Japan. Some of the bands featured some of the top American jazz musicians who were serving their country. Sometimes, these musicians spent time collaborating with local jazz musicians who were keen to learn from some of the names they had only heard on the radio. However, in 1952 when the allied forces left Japan, and returned home musicians like Frank Foster, Harold Lamb and Oliver Nelson had formed firm friendships with local jazzers. By then, they had played an important part in the cultural rebirth of Japan.

Left to their own devices, a new era began for Japanese musicians who were determined to make up for lost time. Musically there had been no winners after six years of war. While jazz had been banned in Japan during the war, many British and American jazz musicians had been called up and were serving their country. Many jazz musicians had spent the war in army bands where they were usually out of harm’s way. Now they had returned home, and like their Japanese counterparts were making up for lost time.

By the mid-fifties, a jazz scene had developed in Japan, during what was later referred to as the “funky period.” However, much of the jazz music being made in Japan had been influenced by American jazz and particularly the West Coast cool jazz and East Coast hard bop. Many Japanese musicians were collecting albums on Blue Note and Prestige which heavily influenced them. It would only be later that some would find their own voice. 

Meanwhile, many of the top American jazz musicians no longer serving in the US Army, and had returned home. Some joined new or existing bands while some musicians put together new bands. Initially, they returned to their local circuit where they tried to pickup where they had left off. This changed a few years later.

In the late-fifties and early sixties, many of these musicians who had played in Japan during World War II were keen to return to a country where so many loved and appreciated jazz music. They made the long journey to Japan where they were reunited with some old friends.

During this period, Miles Davis, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and  Horace Silver all made the long journey to Japan where they received a warm and enthusiastic welcome. Whether any of these legendary musicians were aware at the time, they were playing a part in the cultural rebirth of Japan. Soon, many Japanese jazz musicians weren’t just content to copy Miles Davis, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Horace Silver sonically, but were determined copy them stylistically. Before long, Japanese  jazz musicians were soon sporting the same preppy Ivy League clothes as their American counterparts. 

Despite many people enjoying the visits of American jazz musicians, the Japanese authorities heard that some musicians had been arrested on drugs offences. They tightened the law as they didn’t want musicians with drug convictions visiting the new Japan and corrupting their youth. However, with the laws tightened, much fewer American jazz musicians visited Japan. Those that visited, played in packed concert halls and continue to influence Japanese jazzers. 

Not all Japanese jazz musicians were inspired by their American counterparts by the mid-sixties as homegrown musicians were making their presence felt. Especially pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi and saxophonist and flautist Sadao Watanabe who were among the leading lights of the vibrant Japanese jazz scene.

Toshiko Akiyoshi had been invited to study at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1955. However, it took a year of wrangling, diplomacy and arm twisting before Toshiko Akiyoshi was able to enrol at Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1956. By then, Toshiko Akiyoshi was already making a name for herself outside of her native Japan and would enjoy a long and successful career.

Five years later, Sadao Watanabe released his eponymous debut album on King Records. The following year, 1962, Sadao Watanabe followed in Toshiko Akiyoshi’s footsteps and enrolled at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He too was on the cusp of a successful career.

Back home in Japan, many other Japanese jazz musicians were content to draw inspiration from their American counterparts, but decided to forge a new style of modern jazz befitting the new modern Japan. Leading this movement in the late-sixties was Sadao Watanabe whose music was progressive, experimental,  exciting and ambitious and reflected the musical influences ad genre he had absorbed. Soon, Sadao Watanabe was influencing some of the musicians who were at the forefront of a jazz revolution.

Some of Japan’s top up-and-coming jazz musicians joined Sadao Watanabe’s band, where they learned from one of the country’s top jazzers. For these musicians this was akin to a musical apprenticeship, before they headed off to play their part in the jazz revolution that took place between the late-sixties and early eighties. It’s documented on J Jazz Volume 2–Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969–1983. 

Tony Higgins and Mike Peden, the compilers of J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan , dig deep into their impressive record collections and select a captivating and eclectic selection of tracks that span a fifteen year period. This includes Makoto Terashita meets Harold Land who open J Jazz Volume 2–Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969–1983 with Dragon Dance a deep spiritual jazz opus  from the 1984 Topology. This sets the bar high, but compilers Tony Higgins and Mike Peden are up to the challenge and include  several modal jazz tracks. This includes Daguri, the stunning title-track from the Kohsuke Mine Quintet 1973 modal offering on Victor, and the hidden gem Distant Thunder from the Mabumi Yamaguchi Quartet’s 1978 album Leeward on Union Records. It’s a welcome addition to the compilation. 

So is Vietnam a mid-tempo Bossa Nova tinged track from George Kawaguchi Big Four’s George and Sleepy album. Very different and quite beautiful, but wistful sounding  is Serenade To A Dimly Lit Street from Hiroshi Matsumoto and Hideo Ishikawa Quartet’s 1969 album Megalopolis. Then there’s  funk fusion courtesy of the Electro Keyboard Orchestra, who contribute 

Mother Of The Future from their 1975 eponymous album. It gives way to Teru Sakomoto Trio’s spartan and understated acoustic funk track Teru Teru Bozu (Black Keys) from  Let’s Play Jazz Piano Vol.3.

On a compilation as good as J Jazz Volume 2–Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969–1983 it’s hard to mention just a few of the tracks. However, it would be remiss of me not to mention the thunderous and filmic big band sound of Little Giant the title-track to Nobuo Hara and Sharps and Flats’ 1969 album.  Closing J Jazz Volume 2–Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969–1983 is the blistering post bop of Akira Miyazawa’s Brown Trout. It’s the perfect way to close what’s one of the best compilations of J Jazz that has been released over the last few years.

BBE Music have Tony Higgins and Mike Peden, the compilers of J Jazz Volume 2–Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969–1983 to thank for digging deep into their impressive record collections and selecting such a captivating and eclectic selection of Japanese  jazz. It’s a reminder of the golden age of J Jazz, and will appeal to anyone interested in Japanese jazz. Veterans of many a previous J Jazz compilation or album, and  are newcomers to Japanese jazz will enjoy the lovingly curated J Jazz Volume 2–Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969–1983. In fact, anyone with even a passing interest in Jn Jazz should be looking to add J Jazz Volume 2–Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969–1983 to their collections. It features ambitious, exciting and innovative jazz music, which pushed musical boundaries to its limits, and sometimes,  beyond. Sadly, much of the music on J Jazz Volume 2–Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969–1983 never found the audience it deserved, and it’s only relatively recently, in the internet age when a new audience discovered the delights of Japanese jazz from what was its golden age.

J Jazz Volume 2–Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969–1983.

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