I’ve been a fan of Hiroshima for a long time. I love contemporary jazz. I love Japanese arts, culture, and society. It’s been a natural fit. I’ve been recommending The Best of Hiroshima compilation for a long time. It’s been the best compilation of their music from their earlier recordings. It’s also been their only compilation…until now. The band is celebrating 30 years in the recording industry with a retrospective called Legacy. Legacy is eleven of the band’s more familiar songs from their first decade, re-recorded by the band’s current lineup. Led by founders Dan Kuramoto (on saxophone) and June Kuramoto (on koto), Legacy reminds you how their East Meets West sound became so popular (two of their first five records went gold). The songs are nicely balanced between faithful renditions and reworked versions that sound like what they might have created for live performances. I don’t know if Hiroshima’s old label is keeping Best of Hiroshima in circulation so I’m happy the band included some original arrangements. Tracks like “Turning Point,” “Thousand Cranes,” “One Wish,” and “I’ve Been Here Before” stand the test of time. The updated, extended version of “Another Place” works for me. “Hawaiian Electric” stays a little too familiar at first (the 80s keyboard sound could have been left behind) then goes salsa. Appropriately omnipresent is June, who plays the koto as beautifully as ever.
Dan Kuramoto sums up Legacy best: “I would like to think that there’s a heart and a voice within this music that doesn’t go out of style,” he says. “These songs are as fresh and meaningful to us today as they were the first time they were recorded. They’re not of a particular genre. They are our musical heart. They shift gears from Japanese to jazz to salsa to R&B and beyond. Throughout each piece, you can hear the echoes of all the experiences that have influenced us along the way.”
Look for Legacy from Hiroshima out on August 18 on the Heads Up label.
Pre-order Legacy from Amazon.com!
Thunder. Rhythmic, melodic, rock you out, funk you up. Thunder! Back in the spring when I interviewed Marcus Miller, I asked him what was in the pipeline. He mentioned that there was a bass trio recording that he Stanley and Victor were working on – and oh what a recording it’s turned out to be. I can’t imagine a better name for this all-star collaboration between these three Bass Masters of the Universe. The thunderous power that is conjured up by SMV is awe-inspiring, not just in the low and middle registers, but in the compositions and arrangements as well. This isn’t some ego driven free-for-all that’s all chops and no meat. In my opinion, it’s the compositions that drive this recording, with each bassist unselfishly contributing for the benefit of the whole. I have to admit that of the three players, I’m least familiar with Victor Wooten; but I was easily able to identify each distinctive voice, in fact, this is probably the best setting I’ve heard Stanley play in in quite sometime. To have three of today’s leading bassists, each of which bring much more to the table than just being a recording artist, creating such a cohesive project, speaks volumes of their talents and obvious kinship. One could only hope that this doesn’t end up being a one-off project. Also, kudos to Heads Up for having the guts to release this project, in a year that has been extremely lean for anything remotely approaching quality jazz, yet alone fusion. One last opinion if I may: I’ve purchased maybe five actual physical CDs this year, but I’ve purchased at least 60 downloadable, complete jazz recordings thus far. How come they don’t come with downloadable digital booklets?
Buy the CD from Amazon.com!
Download it from iTunes
Hammond B-3 master Melvin Rhyne garnered himself a place in jazz history for his work with the legendary Wes Montgomery. Thus it was with caution that saxophonist Rob Dixon approached him about creating and recording a modernized approach to the jazz organ quartet. This Reinvention was to take place with the help of drummer Kenny Phelps and the renowned player and instructor of guitar Fareed Haque (Garaj Mahal). To Dixon’s pleasant surprise Rhyne was receptive to the idea and the Dixon-Rhyne project was born. From start to finish the disc presents the listener with an energetic groove that’s clearly captured on tracks such as “Mind’s Eye” and “Fantastic Prizes”. I particularly enjoyed the drum ‘n bass number “Shadow and Light” which features Rhyne on the Mini-Moog along with some fantastic tenor work by Dixon. Another standout is the fusion scorcher “Tomorrow Sierra” on which Haque shines on electric guitar. The disc also includes a soulful cover of Kenny Burrell’s “Chit’lins Con Carne” as well. While it might be tempting to write this off as just another organ quartet outing, Reinvention is anything but. If you’re looking for a fresh perspective on the traditional organ quartet be sure to give this one a listen.
Buy the CD at Amazon.com
One of your summer listening highlights this year will likely be the new recording from Ken Navarro, The Grace of Summer Light. I’ve heard the majority of the now 18 recordings of the guitarist and he continues to impress. This latest release continues to demonstrate Navarro’s growth as a composer. In fact, I’ll have to remember to refer to him as composer/guitarist Ken Navarro, or even more accurately: storyteller Ken Navarro. The compositions obviously inspired the musicians, including Joel Rosenblatt on drums, Tom Kennedy on acoustic and electric bass, and Jay Rowe on keyboards. Find out for yourself: Ken is offering the entire recording, all 57 minutes, for you to listen to. It’s not background music that you can listen to while you work. This music demands your attention. And, as he did with his previous effort, The Meeting Place, he’s blogged about the making of the new album.
The Grace of Summer Light will be in stores on June 17 on Ken’s Positive Music label. You can pre-order it now through Amazon.com. Join the discussion about it in The Forum!
The Yellowjackets – where do I start? How about at the beginning, when they were the back-up band for Robben Ford? Much has been written and chronicled about this early chapter of their history, especially in light of their 2006 anniversary release, Twenty-Five. I bring all this up because of the inevitable comparison that will be made between the current Yellowjackets line-up on Lifecycle and the original group with guitarist Ford – all because of the prescience of the telecaster-wielding Mike Stern. Let me start by saying that I think this current band of Haslip, Ferrante, Mintzer and Baylor along with guest Stern are by far the strongest iteration of this storied group. Ford, Russo, Lawson, Kennedy, and Erskine all contributed mightily when they were in the band but, somewhere in the late eighties, Ferrante and Haslip started to take the band, both sonically and compositionally, in a different direction. This culminated with Mintzer joining the Jackets for both Greenhouse and his own One Music in 1991 and 1992 respectively. Which leads us to Lifecycle, and the inclusion of Stern, who first joined the Yellowjackets on stage in Montreal last year. Whereas Ford has always had that blues sound, Stern’s playing is decidedly more horn-like in both his phrasing and attack which makes him the perfect foil for Mintzer. In fact, I feel that Stern could have felt right at home on any of the last four or five Jackets’ releases – his sound and compositional style are so incredibly suited to this band. I remember a night in 1990 when I was listening to the local late night jazz radio broadcast and I heard what I thought was the Yellowjackets. It turned out to be a tune from the Mike Stern-Bob Berg band, something from one or the other’s recordings, which at the time were virtually the same personnel. My point: this collaboration has been a long time coming and this version of the Yellowjackets has never sounded better or stronger. As a fan, the courage that the Yellowjackets display on Lifecycle to keep evolving the band is certainly a comfort for future endeavors.
Buy the CD, MP3 downloads, and watch a behind-the-scenes interview at Amazon.com.
Download Lifecycle from iTunes.