Kohsuke Mine Quintet ‘Daguri’

A high-energy, modal/spiritual, face-melter of a jazz record that packs a mighty wallop. Fans of McCoy Tyner’s early 70s Milestone records will go bonkers over this. Kohsuke Mine handles both tenor and soprano sax and is the composer of all five mid-to-long tracks on ‘Daguri’. He’s joined by Hideo Miyata (tenor sax), Fumio Itabashi (piano), Hideaki Mochizuki (bass) and Hiroshi Murakami (drums). The opening track is molten intensity, as the saxes and piano intertwine and build the tension, somehow digging the groove deeper while soaring higher. They dare one another to keep up and the challenge is accepted as each peak is reached and transcended. The drum and piano work throughout moves from intricate to manic to hyperactive—the first track alone will leave you breathless and reaching for another coffee. But the instrumental verbosity never steps on the tunefulness…groove, swing, and virtuosity co-exist in ideal proportions on every track. There’s only one tune, “Self Contradiction” that’s on the downtempo side. Otherwise, you should set the gearshift for the high gear of your soul! The title track appeared on the compilation J-Jazz Vol 2 which came out last year, but the full LP is very much worth seeking out. A bit of a tough pull on vinyl, but it is available across the digital spectrum and also received a CD reissue recently so it’s around. Lethal, but who ever said great jazz was safe?

Stop Over

The latest release in the BBE J Jazz Masterclass series has dropped on vinyl, CD, and across the digital spectrum, and it’s a stone-cold, hard-bop killer. As only 100 copies of ‘Stop Over’ were pressed back in 1976, the rarity/reputation of this Japanese quintet’s performance had traveled to many more ears than the music itself. So this is a very welcome reissue, done to the usual high standards of this series overseen by Tony Higgins and Mike Peden. The two LPs are cut at 45RPM for optimal sound, and my ears say “mission accomplished.” Here and there, it seems the original recording does emphasize the drums, though not in an off-putting way, and I’d say if anything the occasional ride cymbal at the fore only ramps up the intensity. The terrific liner notes by @the_jazz_dad will tell you all you ever wanted to know about how this record was made, and there’s also a new essay from pianist Toshiyuki Sekine which provides a firsthand narrative that provides additional context, presenting a complete picture of that moment in time. It makes for great reading, and the immersion of a good essay in a gatefold cover is a particular joy that…well, you either know it or you don’t. The songs include Bobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem,” Danny Zeitlin’s “Carole’s Garden,” Todd Dameron’s “Soultrane,” and Cedar Walton’s “Turquoise Twice”; along with the Sasaki original ‘Stop Over’ (which made its first appearance on last years J-Jazz Vol 2 collection, also from). The quintet is Noriyasu Watanabe-alto sax, Hideto Sasaki-trumpet, Toshiyuki Sekine-piano, Kei Narita-bass, and Takaski Kurosaki-drums. If you dig the sound of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers when they’re firing on all cylinders, this’ll blow you away. All of the BBE J-Jazz compilations and the Masterclass Series have been eye/ear-opening, and wildly satisfying—recommended to all, jazz newbies and experts will find lots to love here. Here’s hoping the series will continue

My Favorite Things: The Top 9 Releases of 2019

My Top 9 releases of 2019 and only a five word comment about each. More to come!
Reissues/From the Vault:
Alice Clark ‘Alice Clark’: Essential soul you’ll regret skipping
Frank Zappa ‘Zappa in New York’ 40th Anniversary 5CD Deluxe Edition: Best live Zappa since Roxy
Van Morrison ‘The Healing Game’ 3 CD Deluxe Edition: Best archival release of 2019
Frank Marino ‘Live at the Agora’ Blu Ray/DVD: Guitar hero transcends guitar heroes
Various Artists ‘J Jazz Volume 2: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969-1983’: This ain’t your grandad’s jazz.
New Releases:
Chrissie Hynde ‘Value Bone Woe’: Unexpected jazz greatness Pretenders-style
Joel Ross ‘KingMaker’: Gen Z makes vibraphones cool
Muriel Grossmann ‘Reverence’: Spiritual grooves meet polyrhythmic dreams
Umphrey’s McGee ‘Hall of Fame 2018’: Scaring pop fans since 1998

Makoto Terashita Meets Harold Land ‘Topology’

Worth the wait! West meets Far East as @bbemusic @the_jazz_dad and @bacoso unleash the latest in their BBE Masterclass Series. This is an album *SO* rare most jazz fans (myself included) weren’t aware of its existence. As we all know, sometimes rare, buried treasures are notable simply due to rarity, and the substance is underwhelming. None of that here—the curators of this series have added another title to the top shelf of J-Jazz reissues. ’Topology’ was recorded in a single session on 11 June 1984 and released on the Aketa’s Disk label in Japan. The history of the session and the players is beautifully detailed by Tony Higgins in the liner notes which grace the gatefold of this double LP, which has issued at 45RPM for optimal sound quality (and I must say the sonics on this record are STELLAR). The opening track “Dragon Dance” (which also opens BBE’s fantastic J-Jazz Vol 2 compilation) is a modal monster. Beginning with a gorgeous solo piano workout from Makoto Terashita that becomes a full band exploration of ideas, themes and modes unfolding with perfection over twelve glorious minutes, this track is EXTRAORDINARY. It sets the bar incredibly high for the rest of the record. Great news—while not everything hits the lofty heights of “Dragon Dance”, most of the tracks come damn close. All were written by Terashita save one which is contributed by Harold Land, whose tenor sax work throughout retains the strength of prior decades—tone, speed and versatility are on point.
Bassist Yasushi Yoneki, percussionist Takayuki Koizumi and drummer Mike Reznikoff complete the quintet and are all great players, but this is very much the Land/Terashita show. So again, kudos to the J-Jazz team for spelunking this one out from the depths of obscurity to the world of reasonably-priced-reissues, and going the extra mile in sound quality, packaging (the obi is a nice touch) and liner notes that provide the additional context. Combined, it creates a completely great listening experience. Oh, it’s also available across digital platforms! One of the best jazz releases of 2019 thanks to all involved…don’t miss it

Terumasa Hino ‘Into Eternity’

Terumasa Hino’s ‘Into Eternity’ is an epic, visionary double LP that covers a lot of ground in the J-Jazz space. Dig the manic modal mood of “Mr. Happiness”…the fabulous flute workout during “Song of Bumiji”…the soaring, uplifting spiritual jazz realms of “Horizon” and “Eastern Egg”…the stark, forlorn musings that unfold during the closing ballad “Midnight”. These alone would make this a pretty great record but there are two additional centerpieces on this Japan-only release: There is the weird, wired, borderline-frenetic, quasi-fusion workout of “Cycle Circle”, which over the course of fourteen minutes veers between a 3500 calorie spin class and an LSD trip. Then there’s the highlight, “Ode to Workman”. This would be the third appearance of this track on a Hino record and the longest, clocking in at over twenty minutes. The piece made its debut on Hino’s 1971 LP ‘A Part’ which featured Reggie Workman on bass (that track also graces the excellent J-Jazz Vol 1 compilation from last year, as a vinyl bonus track), then again later that year on his live ‘Hino at Berlin Jazz Festival ‘71’ LP. The reading on this record is a masterclass in “the build”. Once you get past the mood setting (read: mucking about) in the opening few minutes, they settle into the familiar “Ode” groove after about four minutes. On this track, the core quintet is augmented by the addition of guests Isao Suzuki (bass) and Yuhji Inamaru (congas) who meld with the existing bass/drum combo to create a four-headed, eight-armed, rhythmic multi-beast. The dual-bass interplay here while Masuda goes APESHIT on piano is just ridiculous. All in all, an incredible J-Jazz album that’s a must for fans. The more I listen, the more I like which is about as strong an endorsement one can give. Lineup: Terumasa Hino-trumpet/flugelhorn, Hideo Miyata-saxes/flute, Mikio Masuda-piano, Tsutomu Okada-bass, Motohiko Hino-drums. This is a 1977 reissue CBS/Sony ‎– 38AP 670~1. For a Japan-only release, this seems to turn up with surprising regularity in the US, both on LP and an excellent CD remaster on the Mastersound series @terumasahino_official

J-Jazz Vol 2: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969-1983

Best jazz release of 2019! Yes, it’s only September, and there’s wonderful and interesting stuff to come like an unreleased Coltrane session and a deluxe box from Tubby Hayes. Earlier this year we had stellar records from modern talents like Nérija and Theon Cross. However, J-Jazz Volume 2 is THE ONE to beat and the bar is high. Since Volume 1 was my favorite release of 2018, my anticipation has been high. So, how does Volume 2 measure up? It’s even better, but hyperbole isn’t particularly useful. Here’s a bit of J-Jazz context: There is a small, dedicated, crew of subject matter experts about the amazing 1960s-1980s Japanese jazz scene who pooled their knowledge and talents to create two volumes of some of the finest jazz you never knew existed. They’ve curated some of the most musically interesting, rare tracks from the era and presented them in a beautiful package boasting excellent sound, fascinating/detailed liner notes and thoughtful sequencing. Interested? Well here’s the great news: it’s available across every streaming/digital platform, CD and vinyl…take your pick (oh, and @bandcamp FTW…vinyl + lossless digital=❤️). Multiple jazz sub-genres represent here: modal, hard-bop, spiritual, jazz-funk and fusion. Each track is its own highlight, and there’s no greater praise for a “various artists” collection. There is just so much great jazz here I have difficulty calling out any one particular track as being “the best”…the choices are all A+. This outstanding job in curation is what makes this collection so fantastic. I’m personally and professionally fascinated by algorithms for music discovery—when they work and bring to light music that might otherwise go unheard, their value is clear. But no algorithm in the world could have done what Mike Peden and Tony Higgins have achieved here. Their passion for and knowledge of J-Jazz has uniquely positioned them to create a collection that is *SO* satisfying in every way—from music to sequencing—that even hundreds of the brightest engineers at the biggest streaming companies in the world armed with limitless Red Bull and processing power couldn’t ever hope to come close. Essential

Ryo Fukui ‘Scenery’

Lots of chatter about this record. There’s a running debate in various online jazz forums between two camps with firmly entrenched opinions. One faction believes it’s derivative, rife with questionable technique, lacking depth, and notable only because it was—until recently—a mega-rarity from the Japanese jazz scene. They also note with implied scoff that “it wouldn’t have an audience at all if it weren’t for a YouTube algorithm”. Then there’s another faction that finds it brimming with style, fluidity, emotion, power and awesomeness; one of the best jazz records of the 1970s, worthy of every accolade heaped upon it, and grateful that the mysterious algorithm of YouTube has brought it from the darkness of obscurity to the light of jazz infamy. I’m in this faction!
I’m super curious about the YouTube algorithm that seems to have put this record on the radar of so many, so randomly. Investigation to follow. FWIW, I’m super impressed with self-taught pianist Ryo Fukui (piano), and I think he swings marvelously with Satoshi Denpo (bass) and Yoshinori Fukui (drums) on this once-obscure/now-acknowledged-by-some classic of the J-Jazz scene a mere six years after dedicating himself to learning the instrument. You’ll absolutely hear echoes of Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner (and if you like their piano trio work, you’ll **LOVE** this) but it’s not a copycat exercise—it has stylistic charms of its own–and this does not AT ALL sound like a jazz album that hit the streets in 1976. Hear it yourself and form your own opinions. This is a 2018 reissue on We Release Jazz WRJ001 on 180g vinyl and a jacket that feels nearly bulletproof…rock solid quality all around. Well done @wrwtfww

Takeo Moriyama East Plants

Takeo Moriyama ‘East Plants’

Don’t know this record? You’re not alone. Issued in tiny quantities back in 1983 on a small Japanese label, Takeo Moriyama’s ‘East Plants’ would have remained adrift in the ocean of obscurity if it weren’t for the hard work and support of @bacoso @the_jazz_dad @bbemusic and Takeo himself, who reissued this gem last year in a truly first class manner. The original single LP on the VAP label would probably set you back a few hundred bucks. Now for under $25, you can pick up this stunning 2-LP 180g reissue. It’s beautifully packaged in an obi-wrapped gatefold sleeve reproducing the original cover art which includes interesting liner notes. The music itself covers a lot of ground, moving from modal and spiritual voyages to the center of the cosmos to energetic post-bop and even occasional raga-like, meditative moments; all excellently played by a piano-less quintet: Takeo Moriyama (drums) Syuichi Enomoto & Toshihiko Inoue (tenor/soprano sax) Hideaki Mochizuki (bass) and Yohji Sadanari (percussion). As one might expect from a drummer-led project, rhythms take center-stage here and the drumming/percussion is ridiculously impressive throughout. A taste of this LP is available on the highly recommended J-Jazz compilation, and this full length record comes equally highly recommended. Terrific stuff. Available on digital platforms too