CULT CLASSIC: GEORGE OHTSUKA QUINTET-LOVING YOU GEORGE.

Cult Classic: George Ohtsuka Quintet-Loving You George.

When the George Otsuka Quintet took to the stage at the Nemu Jazz Inn on the ‘19th’ of July 1975 the Japanese bandleader, composer and drummer was thirty-seven and about to record a live album. He was following in the footsteps of Norman Connors, Eddie Henderson and Gary Bartz who had recorded the critically  acclaimed live album Dance Of Magic at the same venue.

Once the George Otsuka Quintet knew that the tapes were rolling the group unleashed four stunning performances that became Loving You George. It was released later in 1975 on the Bellwood label which had established a reputation for releasing groundbreaking albums.

Just a few months before the release of Loving You George, Bellwood had released Haruomi Hosono’s landmark album Hosono House. It was the perfect label for such an ambitious album. So was Loving You George which was the fifth album by the George Ohtsuka Quintet. It was led by one of the top drummers in the Japanese jazz scene.

George Ohtsuka was born on April the ‘6th’ 1937 and his breakthrough came in the late-fifties when he became the drummer in Sadao Watanabe’s Cozy Quartet. This was akin to a musical apprenticeship and allowed him to hone his craft and developed into one of Japan’s top drummers.

By the mid-sixties he had formed the George Ohtsuka Trio with bassist Masaoki Terakawa and pianist Hideo Ichikawa. They released their debut album Page 1 in 1967 with Page 2 following in 1968. Later that year, American drummer Roy Haynes and George Ohtsuka Trio collaborated on the album Groovin’ With My Soul Brother.

A year later, in 1969, the George Ohtsuka Trio returned with their third album Last Summer-Page 3. It was the last album the Trio released for four years.

Two years later, in 1971, the George Ohtsuka Quintet released their debut album Sea Breeze on Union Records. That was the only album they released for the label. They signed to the Three Blind Mice label who release  their sophomore album Go On in 1972 and In Concert in 1973, That was the year The Trio made their comeback.

The Trio’s first album in four years was another collaboration. This time, Akira Miyazawa and His Groupe and George Ohtsuka Trio recorded Now’s The Time which was released in 1973. It was the last album the Trio released. They contributed two tracks to Drum Battle when it was released by RCA in 1975.

In 1974, Three Blind Mice released the live album Now’s The Time which was recorded at March the ’26th’ 1974 at Toshi Center Hall, Tokyo and featured Isao Suzuki and Sunao Wada With The Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio, George Otsuka Quintet +2. This was fitting as George Otsuka Quintet’s next release was a live album.

On the ‘19th’ of July 1975, the George Otsuka Quintet journeyed to the Nemu Jazz Inn where they were about to record the live album Loving You George. By then, the lineup featured drummer George Ohtsuka, bassist Mitsuaki Furuno, keyboardist Fumio Karashima, percussionist Norio Ohno and Shozo Sasaki who switched between tenor and soprano saxophone. This was the lineup of the George Otsuka Quintet who took to the stage. 

That night, the concert was produced by Yasuyuki Koike who watched on as the George Otsuka Quintet unleashed a barnstorming performance switching between and fusing jazz, rock, funk, fusion, jazz-funk and soul. It was ambitious album that even heads in the direction of modal jazz and post bop. The audience were lucky to witness the George Otsuka Quintet at the top of their game on a four track set.

Rapturous applause greets the George Otsuka Quintet as they take to the stage and open Loving You George with the Fumio Karashima composition Love Island. It’s a slow burner with the piano playing a leading role before the dark, broody and mesmeric bass is joined by the drums and a wistful soprano saxophone. Around 3:23 the tempo increases and the arrangement sweeps and breezes along. Later, the saxophone is played with power, passion and freedom while George Otsuka powers his way around the kit and Fumio Karashima jabs and stabs his piano keyboard. He plays a starring role in the sound and success of the track he wrote while Shozo Sasaki plays a supporting role on this musical amuse bouche. 

Steve Kuhn’s Something Everywhere  bursts into life and is driven along by a surging drum groove. It’s accompanied by a fleet-fingered bass solo, wailing, squealing soprano saxophone and shimmering  keyboards that epitomise the fusion sound. The Quintet is in the groove with thunderous  drums and rolling bass driving and powering the arrangement along. Each member of the band plays their part in this near eleven minute breathtaking jam.

There’s no stopping the quintet on Miles Mode which was written by John Coltrane, and they soon pickup where they left off on Something Everywhere. The band play with speed, fluidity and accuracy racing along and produce a new flawless performance as they play as one. George Otsuka’s upbeat swing then gives way to a lengthy drum solo midway through the track. It’s by far the best on the album and is shows why by 1975 he was regarded as one of Japan’s top drummers. Quite simply it’s a masterclass from a drummer at the peak of his powers.

A cover of Minnie Riperton’s Loving You closes Loving You George. The only problem covering this classic song is how does the Quintet replace her spellbinding five octave vocal? In its place are Fumio Karashima’s bank of keyboards. They take centrestage during this laidback cover a quite beautiful soul classic. Meanwhile the bandleader pounds a his drum kit and bassist Mitsuaki Furuno’s considered and confident cover. However, it’s the keyboards that steal the show and play a leading role as the Quintet reinvent a classic and close the concert on a high.

Loving You George is a reminder of the George Ohtsuka Quintet at their creative zenith during a four track set at the legendary Nemu Jazz Inn. 

By July 1975, George Ohtsuka was regarded as one of the top jazz drummers in Japan. That comes as no surprise given his performances on Loving You George where he unleashes several musical masterclasses. However, the rest of the George Ohtsuka Quintet play their part on Loving You George. They’re a talented and versatile group who seamlessly switch between and combine genres on the other great live album recorded at the Nemu Jazz Inn, Loving You George.

Cult Classic: George Ohtsuka Quintet-Loving You George.

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