I’d never really given much thought to jazz from Japan before, but I recently came into a few records that’ve instigated a full-blown obsession whose duration has yet to be determined. This stuff kicks ass! Here’s a few of my favorites lately.
Takehiko Honda – Jodo - The title track alone, a chilling 11-minute dirge, is out of this world and is the reason everyone should track down this record. Reggie Workman bows his bass maniacally, sliding all over the fretboard, while Honda plays these terrifying chords up and down the piano. The whole tune is either one big fit of tension or one big release; I still can’t tell which, but it’s great. It just goes on and on! I love it.
Terumasa Hino – Tera’s Mood - Everything I’ve heard from Hino’s group in the early ’70s—with Mikio Masuda, Yoshio Ikeda, and Motohiko Hino—has been top-notch, and this live record, from 1973, is my favorite. “Alone, Alone and Alone” lives up to its name as a sparse invocation, then “Taro’s Mood” rips into an ultrafast pace with Masuda killing it, and “Predawn” has everybody shredding, especially Motohiko Hino on drums.
Kosuke Mine – Mine - Yet again, the sense of discovery here is overwhelming. Like, who the hell is Kosuke Mine, right? But dude, it’s great! This seems to be the first record released on the Three Blind Mice label, which released a lot of jazz from Japan in its day. This one’s from 1970, and features a fine take on Joe Henderson’s “Isotope” with some out-there originals augmented by Fender rhodes and Hine’s angular saxophone.
Takao Uematsu – Debut - “Inside Parts” is your standard blues and “Sleep, My Love” actually contains direct quotes from “A Love Supreme,” but when Uematsu’s playing solos he’s his own man. A mostly mid-tempo record, Uematsu nonetheless blows the hell out of his tenor, even on ballads. A trombonist named Takashi Imai comes correct with some inventive playing, too. Nice version of “Stella by Starlight,” but wait. . .
Terumasa Hino – Live! - Hino takes the cake again with a way better version of “Stella by Starlight,” and you guessed it—it’s the same early ’70s group. “Sweet Lullaby” is a good example of Hino’s forte; it fills empty spaces with just the right jabs, and Side Two is one long jam called “Be and Know” that even gets into some boogie rock with Hino wailing in the upper register. It’s 30 minutes long, all on one side! Such a great band, this one.