I don’t think I’ve had the opportunity to say so on this site yet, but I’m a rather big fan of the Japanese jazz scene. Since anything that I’m a big fan of is fair game for this blog, here’s a post on Japanese jazz. I feel that it’s only fair to start with classical jazz, since the jazz scene in Japan has seen some major transformations over the years. When you talk about classic Japanese jazz, you really do need to start with Toshiko Akiyoshi. Well, you don’t really have to start with her, but she’s the earliest I know of. I don’t actually do that much research, so if you want actual facts, look them up yourself.
Either way, Toshiko Akiyoshi is very old jazz, and while some of her stuff doesn’t seem to stand the test of time when compared to the classics of American jazz, some of her work stands out to this day. I’ll be featuring a few as we go on, but to be honest, Toshiko Akiyoshi’s work has probably been the hardest to get my hands on.
Let’s begin with a rather old 1960’s performance from Toshiko of the song “Village”. Take a listen:
It’s got a beat and a rhythm that is unmistakable for any jazz piece, but the melodic nature evokes a supreme technicality in Toshiko’s playing, something that is common in most of her songs. Overall, this is probably one of my favorites of her performances.
Let’s move on to something more typical. Here’s the Toshiko Akiyoshi Quintet doing their rendition of the Miles Davis composition “So What”.
Compared to the original, Toshiko Akiyoshi’s version seems a bit quicker, a bit more technical and, just maybe, a tad bit “sneakier”. That’s the message I got from it anyways. There’s almost a slyness, like the band is slinking away from the piece and the audience with every successive note. However, the biggest distinction between the two is effect of changing the lead instrument from trumpet to piano. With Miles, you have a drowsiness and flow, like your riding the music. With Toshiko, it’s like chasing the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, wondering if it isn’t all just a big tease.
Here’s one last song for you guys. From Toshiko’s 1957 album Amazing Toshiko Akiyoshi, “Blues for Toshiko”.
You’ll notice that although the song had “blues” in the title, it’s unmistakably upbeat. Perhaps this is due to the technical nature of Toshiko’s music taking over, but I sense this kind of whimsical nature in most of Toshiko’s work. The nature of her music and her jazz seems to be happy. That is what I found most striking about her as a musician.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the return of music reviews. Have a great day!