Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.

–Charles Mingus

Kyoto Jazz Massive on a Blue Note Mission by Beard Radio on Mixcloud

Inventions & Dimensions - Herbie Hancock

Inventions & Dimensions (1964) is the third album by Herbie Hancock, featuring Herbie Hancock – piano, Paul Chambers – bass, Willie Bobo – drums, timbales, and Osvaldo “Chihuahua” Martinez – percussion (not on track 5).

In order to define the new album Mission by Kyoto Jazz Sextet (Blue Note Japan, 2015), and the renaissance of Crossover Jazz in Japan one needs to step back into the past. Specifically into the back catalogues of Blue Note Records. Started by Francis Wolff and Alfred Lion in the 30s, the jazz label became known for producing some of the most infamous hard-bop albums of the 60s. Wolff was known for taking photos of artists during studio sessions, sometimes obtrusively, and getting great work in the process. His iconic photos fill the album covers of the Blue Note Discography. Which begs the question, what are the roots of Shuya Okino’s Crossover Jazz empire? Where did it come from? How is it coming to define 21st-century Tokyo and the world beyond?

Jazz transformed from Ragtime to Swing to Bebop before it entered the pivotal era of the 50s and 60s. Miles Davis Birth of the Cool Modal revolution and its West Coast and Bossa Nova tendencies spread from the east coast of the US, across the country and throughout the world. Along with Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and Pharaoh Sanders, Ornette Coleman pioneered the improvisational brand of Free Jazz that led to Soul, Fusion and Funk. The instrumental basis of swing had already been wildly popularized abroad, and its ability to cross into lands across the globe without passport made it one of the quickest music genres to evolve into a music any country could call their own. While jazz may have been an exclusively American invention, by the late 60s it truly had become the world music.

Jazz has been big in Japan for a century. Fumio Nanri, Ryoichi Hattori, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Yosuke Yamshita, Tadao Watanabe, to name a few, were all stellar musicians in their own right who sought to overcome criticisms of being derivative. Anyone can play a horn, pluck a bass, strum a guitar or pound a snaredrum, and a vast majority of Japanese jazz musicians were able to do so, finding themselves to be almost freakishly good at technical playing, but were missing the intangible touch of flair that was new and exciting, the j’ai ne sais quoi still good enough to remind fans of the masters from before. Music thirsts for artistry beyond mere musical ability. Jazz needs soul.

Kyoto Jazz Massive - Spirit of the Sun

Spirit of the Sun (2004) by Kyoto Jazz Massive features Shuya Okino, Yoshihiro Okino, Yasushi Kurobane, and Hajime Yoshizawa

Enter Shuya and Yoshi Okino. Looking backward has never been the Okino brothers forte. They are too forward facing to do so. Yet unable to escape the grand sounds coming out of the past, they have opted for their own special brand of break beat jazz. DJing, composing, arranging, supervising and producing music, they are not a group in the traditional sense. They don’t put out albums the way the music industry wants artists to do. They work at their own pace with numerous talented people across the vast panopoly of the musicsphere, like pianist and producer Hajime Yoshizawa and composer and saxophonist Naruyoshi Kikuchi. Seriously, these guys love to play live. They DJ. They run a record label / music shop. They come to get down. Releasing studio albums can wait.

They formed Kyoto Jazz Massive as a DJ unit in the early 90s, releasing the compilation Kyoto Jazz Massive V.A.. But between running a Tokyo nightclub (Shuya Okino is the owner of The Room, the influential Club Jazz/Crossover music club in Shibuya), and a record label Especial Records (Yoshi Okino operates Especial in Osaka, putting out albums by Root Soul, Sleep Walker, and Hajime Yoshizawa, Dj Kawasaki), the brothers came to the attention of a worldwide audience in a prime moment just before the release of Kyoto Jazz Massive’s first single, “Eclipse” and the release of the subsequent album Spirit of the Sun (Compost Records, 2002), when they were popularized (and named) by the BBC Radio 1 DJ Gilles Peterson in 2001. They began to tour, bringing the best Crossover Jazz to the Americas, Europe and Asia in a soulful effort to bridge musical as well as cultural divides. You can get a sense of how audiences might feel while seeing a slickly dressed DJ revving up the turntables opposite trumpeters and trombonists tuning up. It’s a bit befuddling. But once the warbles turn to warm notes and the band begins to lock in step it is easy to see how the scene has grown to encapsulate an eclectic ensemble of the best live jazz musicians in conjunction with mad beat architecture: two of the things Shuya Okino holds dear.

In our interview with Shuya he recalls a live show he played in France more than a decade ago:

We played Hiphop, Jazz, House, Techno, Brazil, Latin, Africa, Disco, Boogie, Drum n’ Bass, Break beats, Soul, Funk, Arabian & so on. But in France I’d heard that Club Jazz is a difficult thing. I guess what left an impression on me was when I visited in 2000 thinking that nobody would come. What I can’t forget to this day is the rush of the packed venue and the open-minded audience.

Kyoto Jazz Massive Turns 20

Much like the ethos of Free Jazz, Shuya’s Crossover Jazz places the emphasis on improvisation via new technology. Yet that the technology does not define the music is what is so masterful. The latest package, called Kyoto Jazz Sextet, was created to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the formation of Kyoto Jazz Massive. Mission features seven songs selected from 1963 to 1966 to reflect the distinct Blue Note sound of the period. Herbie Hancock, Waybe Shorter, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson and Hank Mobley were all prominent musicians for Blue Note and the nature of these times and songs not only allows for improvisation, it begs for it. Yusuke Hirado (Piano – Quasimode), Ruike Shinpei (Trumpet – DCPRG), Takeshi Kurihara (Tenor Sax – Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro), Koizumi “P” Yoshihito (Bass – Matsuura Toshio presents HEX) and Masanori Amakura (Drums) (joined by Kikuchi Naruyoshi on “Speak No Evil” and “Eclipse”) play vintage musical instruments throughout the recording. Eventually mastering and editing the results using analog methods, the band takes the homage to trad jazz to the next level, crossing-over with samples, loops, mash-ups and improvisation, all by the musicians themselves without post-production digital input. Complicated yet sounding so simple, it’s gorgeous. Closing out this tribute to mid-60s Blue Note era is the Kyoto Jazz Massive track ‘Eclipse’, featuring acclaimed saxophonist Kikuchi Naruyoshi (also plays on “Speak No Evil”). Apart from his usual arranging and production duties, Shuya actually plays as a member of the live band, which is at the heart of Crossover. During live shows at The Room in Shibuya members of the sextet frequently change, often giving more intimate versions of big band live shows.

Track List

Kyoto Jazz Massive Turns 20

Kyoto Jazz Sextet – Mission

1. Search for the New Land (Lee Morgan)
2. Speak No Evil (Wayne Shorter)
3. The Melting Pot (Freddie Hubbard)
4. Succotash (Herbie Hancock)
5. Mr. Jin (Wayne Shorter)
6 Jinrikisha (Joe Henderson)
7. Up a Step (Hank Mobley)
8. Eclipse (Kyoto Jazz Massive)

Produced by Shuya Okino
Co-produced by Kenichi Ikeda (Root Soul)
Supervised by Yoshihiro Okino

All songs arranged by Shuya Okino & Kenichi Ikeda, except
2 by Shuya Okino, Kenichi Ikeda & Takeshi Kurihara
4 by Shuya Okino, Kenichi Ikeda & Yusuke Hirado

Shuya adds, “As for the next album, because it depends on my brother as well, I can’t really say, but isn’t it amusing we only put one out every 10 years?”

If you’re not in Japan, and nowhere near KJM’s next tour, you should get the album (from Especial Records) now.