Cult Classic: Tohru Aizawa Quartet-Tachibana. 

For many connoisseurs of jazz, especially seventies J-Jazz, one little known private pressing is their holy grail, and everywhere they go it’s the one album that they always search for. There’s always the hope that in a backstreet record shop, antique centre or thrift store in a town or city somewhere in the world a copy of Tohru Aizawa Quartet’s 1975 album Tachibana way be sitting unnoticed. It’s highly unlikely though, as only a few hundred copies of Tachibana were pressed. 

On the rare occasions when a copy of Tachibana is found, and is offered for sale on an online auction or specialist site where vinyl is bought and sold, many jazz collectors will express an interest. However, very few will be able to afford what is one of the rarest J-Jazz albums ever recorded. Copies can change hands for over £1.000 and there’s This adds to the  mystical and much revered album that is talked about in hushed tones. It’s also an album that came about in remarkable circumstances.

The story began in the early seventies when brothers Tetsuya Morimura and Kyoichiroh Morimura decided to form a jazz group. Tetsuya Morimura who was a drummer, had been inspired by his heroes Elvin Jones and Tony Williams, Meanwhile, Tetsuya Morimura’s brother Tetsuya Morimura, who was a saxophonist, was influenced by his heroes John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Japanese jazz legend Sadao Watanbe. These musicians and the Morimura brothers love of jazz was why they decided to form a new group.

Prior to this, Kyoichiroh Morimura had been a part of the college jazz scene in Kunitachi Music University, in North Tokyo, and for a while had played with koto master Hideakira Sakurai. Ironically, it was with Hideakira Sakurai that pianist Tohru Aizawa had made his debut. Little did Tohru Aizawa and the Morimura know that their paths were about to cross.

This occurred when the Morimura brothers attended a music festival at medical school in Maebashi, in the Gunma Prefecture, in the norther Kantō region. That night, the brothers saw pianist Tohru Aizawa play for the first time and were captivated by his skills as a pianist. Tohru Aizawa was a  couple of older than the Morimura brothers was studying to become a doctor, and also loved jazz music. When Tohru Aizawa and the Morimura brothers met, it wasn’t long before they were planning to form a band together. All they needed was a bassist.

It wasn’t long before Tohru Aizawa and the Morimura brothers met law student and bassist Kozo Watanabe, and the lineup of the nascent quartet was complete. The new quartet they decided to call Mr Aizawa, which would play in local jazz clubs in Maebashi in the Gunma Prefecture.

This included Mokuba, which was situated in Maebashi, and owned by Kohichi Negishi. Mokuba became one of Mr Aizawa’s favourite venues and they soon became the club’s unofficial house band. The more that Mr Aizawa played the better they got, and many of the regular patrons noticed this improvement. Mr Aizawa seemed to improve with each performance and that the music they made was becoming much more melodic. This included a local businessman who had watched with interest as Mr Aizawa improved over the last few weeks and months.

Eventually, Ikujiroh Tachibana who was a local hotelier and huge jazz fan approached Mr Aizawa with an offer that many jazz bands the world over could only have dreamt of. Ikujiroh Tachibana offered to finance and record an album of Mr Aizawa’s music which he would use to promote his various business interests. This included the venue Tachibana Hall, which was situated in Takahashi Machi, in Numata City, which was forty miles from Maebashi. It didn’t take long for the members of Mr Aizawa to accept Ikujiroh Tachibana’s generous offer.

No expense was spared for the recording at Tachibana Sound Hall, Numata, Gunma, Japan. Ikujiroh Tachibana purchased new instruments from the Yukigasa Instrument Store and Mr. Yukimoto ensured the new instruments made their way to  Tachibana Sound Hall in plenty of time for the recording of what would eventually Tachibana. 

The Tachibana took place in 1975 at Tachibana Sound Hall, where many famous jazz musicians had been invited to play by Ikujiroh Tachibana. Now four students were about to record an album, and no expense was being spared. Kunio Arai an engineer from Trio Kenwood Records had been brought onboard to record and run the sessions, although it was Ikujiroh Tachibana produced the Tachibana. Meanwhile some of the band were preparing to record the album with new instruments.

Drummer Tetsuya Morimura and bassist Kozo Watanabe had new instruments to play, while the final member of the rhythm section pianist Tohru Aizawa, took his seat at a Steinway full concert grand. Saxophonist Kyoichiroh Morimura had a new tenor and soprano saxophone to play for the recordings.

The band that had started life as Mr Aizawa was now called the Tohru Aizawa Quartet, and had written three compositions that were about to be recorded. This included Tetsuya Morimura’s Philosopher’s Stone, Kyoichiroh Morimura’s Sacrament and Tohru Aizawa’s Dead Letter. They were joined by covers of Chick Corea’s La Fiesta and Samba De Orfeu which was penned by Brazilian jazz guitarist and composer Luiz Bonfá. These tracks would become Tohru Aizawa Quartet’s debut album Tachibana.

Later in 1975, Tohru Aizawa Quartet released their debut album Tachibana as a private pressing on Tachibana Record, which had been formed by Ikujiroh Tachibana. It’s thought that anywhere between 150 to 1,000 copies of Tachibana were pressed by  Ikujiroh Tachibana as the album wasn’t a commercial release.

Instead, Ikujiroh Tachibana planned to use copies of Tachibana as his business card. Great importance was placed on the exchange of business cards in Japan. It was recognised as part of strict protocol, and part of etiquette that had been established over not just years, but generations. Some business people presented grand and lavish business cards, but a copy of the Tohru Aizawa Quartet’s debut album Tachibana was sure to trump everything. Or so Ikujiroh Tachibana must have thought.

Sometimes when Ikujiroh Tachibana proudly handed over a copy Tachibana, its recipient often discarded the album. They were obviously not a J-Jazz fan. 

Ironically the lucky recipient had discarded or given away to their secretary or assistant what would become one of the rarest album J-Jazz albums ever. Especially as there may have only been 150, 200 or 1,000 copies of Tachibana pressed.

It was only much later that the Tohru Aizawa Quartet’s debut album Tachibana became a cult classic amongst jazz fans and especially connoisseurs of J-Jazz. That was no surprise given the quality of this hidden J-Jazz gem.

Tachibana opens with Philosopher’s Stone which was written by Tetsuya Morimura. The track is an energetic percussive workout and a showcase for drummer Tetsuya Morimura’s considerable skills. His playing underpins this muscular track as the Tohru Aizawa Quartet play with urgency, power and freedom as they switch between modal and free jazz.

Sacrament was written by saxophonist Kyoichiroh Morimura and the influence of his heroes Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane, especially his later music. The influence of Pharaoh Sanders can be heard in Kyoichiroh Morimura’s playing. After a prolonged introduction, the rhythm section launch into a busy, swirling groove and Kyoichiroh Morimura unleashes a blazing, scorching soprano saxophone solo . He plays with speed, power and accuracy, as pianist Tohru Aizawa matches him every step of the way. However, Kyoichiroh Morimura steals the show as he pays homage to his hero John Coltrane and also Pharaoh Sanders as he unleashes sheets of sound but resists the temptation to overflow during one of the highlights of Tachibana.

There’s an almost melancholy quality to Tohru Aizawa’s piano during the introduction to La Fiesta. It breezes joyously along with the piano playing a leading role. So does  Kyoichiroh Morimura’s saxophone and together, they breath new meaning into the track. Later, Tohru Aizawa delivers a  fast and flawless fleet-fingered performance on piano and this seems to inspire the rest of the quartet. Especially Kyoichiroh Morimura, who joined forces with Tohru Aizawa and they play leading roles and play with speed, power and accuracy as they breeze through this Chick Corea composition .

Dead Letter was written by Tohru Aizawa, and features an impressive and energetic performance where the Quartet combine power with urgency. Fittingly, Tohru Aizawa’s piano plays a leading role and sometimes, he seems to have been influenced by McCoy Tyner a stunning performance. Given the quality of his playing during this piece it was no surprise that many thought Tohru Aizawa was destined for greatness. Sadly, Tachibana was his only recording and Dead Letter features his finest hour.

Samba De Orfeu closes Tachibana and finds Tohru Aizawa Quartet race through this cover version. It’s Tohru Aizawa’s piano and Kyoichiroh Morimura’s saxophone that play starring roles. Despite playing at breakneck speed it’s a flawless performance. Tohru Aizawa again showcases his enviable talent during the solos. So does drummer Tetsuya Morimura as he works his way round the kit before passing the baton Tohru Aizawa. He’s joined by Kyoichiroh Morimura and they unite one last time during  this joyous sounding race through of Samba De Orfeu, which closes the album on a high.

Tachibana is one of the rarest J-Jazz albums of the seventies, with between 150 and 1,000 copies of the album being pressed. They became Ikujiroh Tachibana’s business card, which he handed out to his business associates. Alas, not every recipient was a jazz fan, and many copies were discarded. This meant that an already rare J-Jazz album became even rarer. That is one reason why an original copy of Tachibana costs between £550 and £1,200. That’s beyond the budget of the majority of jazz fans who will be happy with a reissue of this cult classic.

Tohru Aizawa Quartet’s debut album Tachibana was their only release and nowadays, is regarded as J-Jazz cult classic. It’s also an album that  belongs not just in every jazz fan’s collection, but anyone who appreciates and enjoys good music.

Cult Classic: Tohru Aizawa Quartet-Tachibana. 


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