Okabe Jun at DOXY
Satin Doll, Okazaki
Kimata san at Intelsat
Lui at Cafe Nation
Groovy organ at Kafe Komodo
Moto Yasuda and Ushiro Sakake at Satin Doll, Okazaki
Goya Moon and JOB big band
Seven balding middle-aged geniuses, wearing suits and ties with war medals and badges attached, combine to make this highly entertaining spectacle called Mnozil Brass. I saw them last Thursday at Aichi Arts Centre Concert Hall and was completely amazed by their brilliance.
Trombone, trumpet, tuba and guest appearances by clarinets, flugelhorns, tin whistles and rubber balls are played with melodious ease, booming power and humour. I’ve never heard such sweet sounds from trombones or witnessed that comedic rush of wind that causes hair to raise from the sound. I could swear the front row’s hair blew back when the group, lined up and front of stage, used every part of their lungs to lift everyone from their seats.
What makes them special is their fantastic humour and performance abilities. They played through Satie, Carol King and Michael Jackson with ease while acting short theatrical pieces and performed a slow motion old western gun fight in a saloon while playing a spaghetti western medley complete with flying bullets and shoes (slow motion).
Leonhard Paul, towering, lanky, long-haired multi-instrumentalist, played the slides of two trombones clasped between each big toe and keys of two trumpets with each hand, while the other musicians blew through the mouthpieces. Comical facial expressions and attention to the audience belied the fact he was concentrating heavily on four completely separate musical parts (who does that?). Later he introduces band members with his trombone. Paul arranges most of the songs, composes and also likes humorous magic tricks with rubber balls.
A samba, Bacharach , Randy Newman and Robert Schumann later a pop medley of Earth, Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, Stayin’ Alive and Stevie Windwood’s Gimme Some Lovin’, the balding rotund group are doing a choreographed dance sequence to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. These men are really very, very funny.
The final icing on the cake had the multi-talented humorists tackling Bohemian Rhapsody with Thomas Gansh trying out Freddie’s role. He is superb and the accompanying vocalists are harmonious and inspiring. It’s all a bit much really. Too much talent in the one room – they deserve world-wide recognition. I highly recommend you check them out. They’ll be in Japan until the 5th of July.
When I first arrived in Nagoya, 10 May 08, I worked at Kanayama near the station. I’d heard from a friend that the good jazz bars in Nagoya were Star Eyes, Swing and Mr Kennys. He drew me a map on a napkin and I discovered Mr Kennys was near work. I walked there during my lunch break and slid my demo under the heavy door on the second floor of a small corner block opposite the JR train line.
The owner rang me that night and I furiously consulted my Japanese ‘point-and-speak’ guidebook. No success. You can never find the right page when you need it. He said he liked the CD. All I could manage was repeated efforts of sumimasen and arigatou gozaimasu. ben kiyo sheimasu. Gah. I found in the book how to say ‘I will come back’ and hung up simultaneously relieved and embarrassed by my pathetic knowledge of Japanese language.
I did return, with bass player Mr Yasuda, and played some songs with the musos jamming on the night. The owner seemed surly. I booked a gig. We pointed at our diaries to organise a date. They are so patient.
Since then, I’ve played at Mr Kennys several times. I highly recommend a visit to this small jazz bar in Kanayama. It is a relaxed yet serious jazz space. The grand piano and double bass take up most of the room but it creates a cosy atmosphere that screams of the swing era. There is a bit of jazz fusion style to the place – crazy iridescent blue streaks on the pylon and some walls. The owner plays guitar so five or six rare beasts hang on the wall next the piano and the long wooden bar is perfect for a casual drink while you tune into some fine performers.
The pylon divides the space so it’s difficult for performers to harness the whole room – you can’t look at everyone at once and people are literally right underneath you jammed around the tables. But it feels groovy, up close and personal. The way entertainment should be. Intense and engaging.
Space is a highly sought commodity in Japan and I am inspired and in awe of what they achieve, especially the venues. The spaces here are so jazz. So cool. If you want to feel as though you’re back in some 1950’s jazz den then get out to these brilliant venues. I guarantee you will see and hear stuff from world-class players.
What happened? We went to Australia for two weeks but it’s a blur. It was like we’d never left. Good to catch up with everyone. The Jazushi gigs were fantastic – great to play with Chris Alexander again. We know each other’s musical style so well the sounds weave effortlessly. It’s very spontaneous. Jazushi has the best Japanese food in Sydney (with Sushi Bar Rashai standing right next to them). But Jazushi has one thing over Sushi Bar Rashai or any other restaurant – live jazz every night of the week. The live jazz venue is a rare animal in Sydney. You may see one hiding under foliage or buried underneath the ground but jazz music is certainly fading from Sydney’s consciousness. It has been for a long time. Live music generally – whether rock, folk or jazz – struggles in Sydney. A few major jazz venues closed down over the last years. People have to make their own venues.
You can catch the Darren Heinrich trio at the Excelsior Hotel where Jazzgroove (Sydney’s jazz promoters) have appropriated a rock staple and house some of the most amazing jazz you will hear in the world. It is a small, dingy room with beer-soaked carpet. There’s always The Basement however the once-groovy underground venue, which had the feeling of a world-class venue, isn’t so special anymore. It’s not as dark, not as bohemian, not as clever and needs to host comedy nights and pop music bands just to stay afloat. I saw Betty Carter sing there about 13 years ago and it was awe-inspiring to be so close to a giant. Today, it is difficult to get so close to top international performers in Sydney. They’ll go straight to big venues like the Opera House or the State Theatre.
Japan isn’t so different. Audiences for live music are dwindling. The Blue Note hosts pop stars and private functions (much to the chagrin of the promoter). My generation and the ones that follow have minute attention spans. We want to be involved in the performance. We want the complete sensory experience – not to sit still and watch someone. So we pack venues with DJs and loud thumping music where we can dance and drink. Sweden’s Koop have managed to combine the two bringing live music and music you can dance to via Bossa Nova back to venues. England’s The Cinematic Orchestra have been able to catch everyone’s attention combining fine music (cello, violin etc) with beats. Nostalgia 77 are a brilliant example of the new jazz beast mixing house beats with jazz vocals and music. The technological age is absorbing the musical past to create the new. I know this is not new in itself. DJs and artists have been sampling classics for decades but there is more a trend towards live musicians creating the sampled sound so the live experience of dance music is much more exciting to watch. Australian band Pivot are a good example of this. Their computer-tinged sounds use samples and live musicians to create sometimes intricate sometimes heart-pounding melodies.
I look forward to the evolution of live music. Ultimately, people will always be intrigued by witnessing greatness so no doubt live music in its many manifestations will survive – hopefully the venues will too.