četvrtak, 25. prosinca 2014.

Takuya Kuroda - Rising Son (2014)

Takuya Kuroda - Rising Son

Nikad ne bih očekivao da će mi ovakvo nešto ("jazz-based crossover songs with hip-hop, funk, latin, soul and Afrobeat") biti dobro.


Remember D'Angelo? Takuya Kuroda and his producer Jose James certainly do—this excellent collection has that loose, swampy, stoned feel from 'Voodoo' closer than anyone since, putting across that feel of thick, still air on a scorching hot, languid, afternoon perfectly. D'Angelo worked because he signposted a way to fuse the classic jazz influenced soul of say Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Al Green and even Prince to modern hip hop grooves without diminishing either genre. By putting that sound into a soulful jazz context Kuroda has arguably chosen to accentuate one of the elements in that original mix so that the whole can be kept fresh sounding while new possibilities can be explored by his excellent band.
The key to getting this sound right is the choices of personnel and instrumentation made by the bandleader and Kuroda clearly knows what he is doing. So, for instance, Corey King's trombone adds to the feel of warmth that fits well with the Afro-beat influence that emerges on a couple of tracks and Kris Bowers opts for the more muted tones of the Fender Rhodes on all but one of his featured tracks. The Afro-beat influence probably bubbles through from Kuroda's 6 years in the Brooklyn based Akoya and he has spoken in interview of how that gig was important in teaching him the importance of musical feel as opposed to say the more musical theory orientated dues paid by the modern classical or jazz musician. Lionel Loueke's inventive and unconventional guest spot solo on "Afro Blues" is a good example of how to keep that looseness or feel within an original rhythm pattern, but still find a way to take it further. As Kuroda put it simply in a recent interview, Loueke "killed it."
Kuroda and James have worked together in James' band since the singer's Black Magic collection of 2010, and the more groove led approach was apparently at the latter's instigation. James himself contributes an impressionistic vocal cameo on the first of two Roy Ayers' covers—the successful trip hop update of "Everybody Loves the Sunshine." The core quintet are clearly comfortable with the musical direction and play beautifully throughout, showing a great understanding for example in the uplifting call and response interplay between Kuroda and Corey King on tracks like "Piri Piri" and title track "Rising Son."
That is not to say that the album is all about soulful, Afro-beat dynamics however—one of the highlights is the gentle sensitivity of "Sometime, Somewhere, Somehow" whose melancholic trumpet and shuffling beat was apparently inspired by the significant loss of Kuroda's grandfather. On "Mala" too the band do a reasonable approximation of the early Blue Note work of Erik Truffaz or maybe even the sort of territory that Nils Petter Molvaer explored in the late 1990s, but this is far from a straight bop album.
While Kuroda has expressed a desire to return to playing the more straight ahead jazz of his previous work, here the seam of creativity that runs through this modern fusion collection appears far from exhausted. As a debut for Blue Note the album was clearly intended to make a statement and it succeeds admirably on its own terms. Let's just hope Kuroda manages to follow it up somewhat quicker than D'Angelo has managed with "Voodoo" where the clock currently approaches 14 years!-
 The name Takuya Kuroda should sound very familiar to fans of Blue Note recording artist José James. If you’ve ever seen James live, or caught one of his many YouTube live sessions, you will have seen Kuroda in action anchoring the horn section behind James’ powerful vocals.
The Japanese trumpeter and composer made his first trip to the U.S. just 13 years ago. He couldn’t speak a word of English, but the universal language of jazz provided the framework for the most unlikely manifestation of the American Dream – Becoming a jazz musician. After honing his chops at New York’s New School, and learning the ins-and-outs of the business alongside James, he’s ready to step out into the spotlight with his Blue Note Records debut ‘Rising Son.’ The album is supremely accessible – A simmering mix of the cultures and influences that make Kuroda one of the most distinctive young players around.
From the entrancing Lionel Loueke-assisted afrobeat rhythms of “Afro Blue,” to the big drums of hip-hop infused “Piri Piri,” to the soulful vibes of Roy Ayers cover “Green and Gold” (my personal favorite cut on the album), to the funky vibes of another Ayers cover of “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” with José James on vocals – Elements are mixed and melded as they permeate every corner of the album to create a near-perfect combination of the old and the new atop a foundation of jazz. This isn’t an album you can’t sit still and listen to – The result of album producer Jose James’ influence. He told Kuroda: “Make sure you have something in the music that makes people bob their heads.” Musicians take note – This is timeless advice.
But the question that will no doubt be on every commentators mind is: Is It Jazz? I can almost hear the jazz-purist blogger’s keyboards tapping away as they pontificate about the issue, but at the end of the day none of that matters. Genre is not as easily defined as I may make it seem in the last paragraph, and as a community (if you believe a ‘jazz community’ exists), it’s time to hang up these outdated notions and barriers that provide some rigid and arbitrary definition of something that is fluid, ever-flowing, and ever-evolving.
Everything you need to know about this album can be summed up in a single sentence. Rising Son represents the fusion of all of Takuya Kuroda’s influences as a musician, and a skilled one at that.
This album should be required listening for anyone with an interest in jazz, funk, afrobeat, hip-hop, or any combination of the above. This is a solid major-label debut that proves Kuroda’s rightful place is in the spotlight. -  

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