J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan Volume 3.

Label: BBE Music.

Format: 2CD.

Nowadays, the most important period in the development of  J-Jazz is the between late-sixties through to the early eighties. That’s regarded as a crucial period in 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 Yasuhiro Kohno Trio and One, Kohsuke Mine, Hideo Shiraki, Tatsuya Nakamura, Shigeharu Mukai, Seiichi Nakamura, Ryusei Quartet  and Koichi Matsukaze Trio who feature on J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan Volume 3 which was recently released by BBE Music. When critics, cultural commentator and record buyers heard this music they were making they were amazed just 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 and genres 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: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan Volume 3. 

Disc One.

Opening J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan Volume 3 is Yasuhiro Kohno Trio and One’s Song Of Island. It’s the title track to his third album which was released in March 1986. This is a live album which was recorded on August the ‘28th’ and ‘29th’ 1985 at Live House Again and features a guest appearance from vibes virtuoso Masahiro Kanno. Along with the bandleader and pianist Yasuhiro Kohno Trio he plays a starring role on the title-track which is one of the highlights of this hidden gem of a J Jazz album.

Morning Tide is taken for Kohsuke Mine’s debut album First, which was released on Philips in 1970. The alto saxophonist and bandleader was part of a new generation of modern jazz musicians. Here, he moves towards a fusion of post modal bop and free jazz on this rich-sounding, dense and groundbreaking track.

In 1963, legendary J Jazz drummer Hideo Shiraki released the album Plays Bossa Nova on King Records. It featured the sun-kissed and funky Groovy Samba which was one of the highlights of the album.

In April 1978, Hiroshi Murakami and Dancing Sphinx recorded the album Dancing Sphinx which was released later that year. It featured the funky sounding Phoebus which also incorporates elements of jazz-funk and fusion. It’s one of the highlights of this oft-overlooked and J Jazz rarity.

Closing disc one is Tatsuya Nakamura’s 1/4 Samba II which It’s taken from the album Locus which was released in 1984. By then, the thirty-nine year jazz drummer was leading a fusion band who were heavily inspired by Miles Davis. However, Tatsuya Nakamura a versatile drummer who could switch seamlessly and combine musical genres. Here he combines fusion, funk and samba on this eleven minute genre-melting Magnus Opus which is one of the highlights of J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan Volume 3.

Side Two.

Jazz trombonist Shigeharu Mukai opens disc two with Cumulonimbus, which is taken from his album Spacing Out, which was released on the Better Days label in 1978. It’s a breathtaking performance whether the band are playing as one or during the solos. The band plays with speed, fluidity and inventiveness as they combine samba with fusion and jazz-funk on a track that’s sure to become a favourite amongst DJs and jazz dancers.

In 1977, the Masaru Imada Trio released their album Planets. This little-known album was a private press that was released on the Planets label. Copies of this obscure  album are rarities which change hands for large sums of money. The highlight of the album is the title-track Planets, which is a beautiful lyrical track that floats and waltzes along revolving it hidden secrets.

There’s two three bonus tracks on the CD version of J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan Volume 3. The second is Wolf’s Theme by soprano and tenor saxophonist Seiichi Nakamura. It’s the title-track from his 1978 album which was released on Union Records in 1978 and is a samba that heads in the direction of fusion and jazz-funk as this all-star band showcase their considerable skills.

The other bonus track on the CD version is Kirisame from the Ryusei Quartet’s one and only album Dah Nah. It was an acoustic album that released by Union Records in 1979 and was the last in a series of sixteen albums the label released. Kirisame is a quite beautiful, laidback track with a Bossa groove.

Closing J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan Volume 3 is Acoustic Chicken by the Koichi Matsukaze Trio which features jazz drummer Ryojiro Furusawa. It’s taken from the group’s debut album At The Room 427 which was released on ALM Records in 1976. This ambitious and innovative live track lasts just over twenty minutes and finds bandleader and saxophonist Koichi Matsukaze playing a starring role. He switches between tenor and soprano saxophone and plays with power, passion and aggression. Especially when he improvises and his saxophone brays, shrieks, squeals and soars during this impressive epic that closes the compilation on a high.

Tony Higgins and Mike Peden dig deep into their impressive record collections and select a captivating and eclectic selection of sixteen tracks on J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan Volume 3. It’s a welcome 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 will enjoy the latest instalment in this occasional series. So will newcomers to Japanese jazz.  In fact, anyone with even a passing interest in J Jazz should be looking to add J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan Volume 3 to their collections. It features ambitious, exciting and innovative J Jazz where some of its finest exponents pushed musical boundaries to its limits, and sometimes, way beyond.

Sadly, much of the music on J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan Volume 3 never found the audience it deserved, and it’s only relatively recently, in the internet age when a new audience discovered the delights of J Jazz from the genre’s golden age.

J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan Volume 3.

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