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By December 13, 2009 News

The first thing I notice is the sound of a sparse bass line, then the melodic wash of electronica begins and a metallic voice soars effortlessly across the two, improvising, speaking through the trumpet. The sound both calms and creates bobbing heads of the festive crowd at the Plastic Factory, a girl staggers in a skimpy santa claus outfit while others have their faces painted. A photographer takes random photos, which punters can buy by donation. 

The music floats across the background of the quickly-growing crowd and draws everybody in with its subtlety. Applauds don’t happen until the third song, they are so long, people aren’t sure where they begin and end. The band, Echolocation, from Tokyo, to put it simply plays beautifully sparse and seductive music, as though in a dream: intriguing though not dominating.

Massa Takemoto takes care of composition, bass and computer and Testsuroh Konishi plays trumpet . They are gentle men with a good feel for melody and keeping rhythm within a sparse playing field – a very difficult thing in my opinion. It’s easier to jam numerous notes into a song and have them sound okay then one or two and keep interest. 

I fortunately now own their CDs from previous projects, echolocation is a new project, and they are sublime. Please check them out: Desert Island Mix (Massa) and Blue Ground Music (Tetsuroh). I look forward to future creations from either artist.

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Dee Dee Bridgewater

By November 26, 2009 News

Dee Dee came out on stage in a short, tight sequin number with a low back and had shaved her  head, completely. Her muscular back held the entire operation together: piano, bass, drums, sax and she grooved across the stage like she was in some kind of trance. When Dee Dee sang it was so powerful and bluuuuuuusey, so effortless.

It’s reassuring to see even the jazz greats have trouble getting a Japanese audience to respond. “You’re soooo quiet,” she said one time of the polite, restrained applause. Then she did a raggy version of ” Them There Eyes”, inspired by New Orleans, and the crowd pepped up. “Ah now I got ya!  You liked that one.”

Dee Dee channelled Billie Holiday during the tribute event (her new album coming out next February is a collection of Billie songs) and added an extra spice of sassy. Her entirely physical response to the music is enthralling to watch: her whole body moves to the music she so obviously loves. At 60 years old, Dee Dee is a reminder of the power that music can have over us all.

A beautiful, if somewhat stiff, quartet:  Enzo Gomez (piano), Ira Coleman (bass), Bruce Cox (drums), Craig Handy (sax, flute). Handy was demonstrably the newest member; he didn’t communicate as well with Dee Dee. The musos loosened up towards the middle of the set though (as did the audience), and after Dee Dee ordered a “refreshing energy drink” of campari, rose water and earl grey tea. A nice mix that the band enjoyed during an on-stage tasting session. Dee Dee had a hard time finding anyone in the audience to ‘kampai’ with; anyone that was drinking alcohol that is. One couple were drinking champagne. “Ah, the lovers,” she cooed.

A powerful woman with a powerful voice.

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Blue Note, Nagoya

By August 3, 2009 News

Buddy Hori, Blue Note promoter, is an endearing man. Although he has dealt with thousands of top name performers, he treats everyone with the respect and has a great sense of humour. Add to this his great taste in music (he played my songs on his Radio-i show on Monday 27 July) and excitement about music, especially big band jazz, and you have my favourite venue promoter in Nagoya.

Saturday 1st August JOB, Mukai Shigeahru and myself performed at Blue Note, Nagoya’s version of the jazz music icon. An early sound check arriving at 12pm for our two stages at 6pm and 8pm, the band was a little tired by showtime. But when the adrenalin hits as you walk on stage the energy of the moment fires everyone and the room is alive.

A full house will do that to you, lift you:  a sea of faces hoping to feel something and artists hoping to make them feel. The music does it anyway – it’s impossible not to feel the stab of the brass, the beat of drums, the velvet-covered notes drifting out of the grand piano, the mellifluous woodwind section. If you’re sitting on the bass side of the big band, you’ll certainly feel their stomping rhythms. 

I wore an antique ostrich feather bolero from 1920s South Africa, given to me by my partner’s mother: a family heirloom. What a gift to help me channel the 1920s and transport the audience to that classic big band era. The long, thin, white feathers flow freely in their layers. I’m sure I heard someone in the audience gasp when I walked on stage. 

The amazing arrangement of Caravan they chose never ceased to astound me and JOB nailed it on the night with Mukai Shiegharu providing brilliant solos throughout. He is a true artist, with great feel and presence: a unique player on the trombone.

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Mnozil Brass

By June 15, 2009 News

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.

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Mr Kenny’s

By May 24, 2009 News

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.

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By May 10, 2009 News

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.

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Introductory Post

By March 31, 2009 News

It is my first year anniversary in Japan. In July 2008 some of Nagoya’s generous and fine jazz musicians invited me into a world where wild, subtle, delicate and stomping jazz seeps into walls of dark, smoky, vinyl-lined venues. Vintage guitars, saxophones or double basses hang from hooks. Since then I have played with numerous musicians.

I meet most of the musicians for the first time, give them charts and we get to know each other during the gig while the double bass bounds, grand piano purrs and drum grooves. Nobody understands my words nor I theirs. It doesn’t matter. It’s in the music. Customers close their eyes and drift into worlds. Bossa nova, jazz, blues, old and new. Mostly old. Rare recordings whirl on turntables or jazz giants jive, projected on walls between sets. 

Yasuda san is my first musical ally: a wonderful upright bassist and tireless supporter and organiser of jazz in Nagoya. He gives me my first experiences of this amazing community of creatives where I stumble blindly and nervously. I shouldn’t. In between the humble genius and smiling sage I slowly learn how they work and I feel more comfortable every day. After a year, it feels like home. I can even speak a little Japanese now. A little. Nihongo musukoshi. I embarrass myself at every gig.

Okabe Jun and Ayako are my second music allies. Okabe san is a brilliant drummer and big band director (also a tireless supporter of jazz musicians in Nagoya) and Ayako a great singer and pianist. Okabe san invites me to sing with his big band JOB and the weight of the big band sound seeps into my skin with so much joy its like being caught in a cloud of cherry blossoms when the wind lifts them from the tree.

Thanks for visiting and I hope you enjoy the music.

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