Squad of fresh J-jazz by way of NYC
My experience with a lot of new jazz being produced and played in Japan is that there’s a freshness and a cool attitude associated with the genre from the younger artists playing it. It’s a move away from the expensive jazz clubs and back to the bars, streets or festival stages in this case. Jazz was once being played, in Japan and the rest of the world, by the hippest cats and freshest dudes. It was perhaps a precursor to other urban music later to come like rap and hip hop. The younger guys playing in the genre in Japan, from Soil and Pimp Sessions, to Kyoto Jazz Massive, Rootsoul and more all have a flair and urban feel to them, both in their dress and playing style.
Opening the Field of Heaven stage Sunday morning was a Japanese jazz group who fit this mold, but were unknown to me for one key reason. The band, J-Squad, was actually from New York City, where this group of like minded, highly skilled, Japanese jazz musicians met and took form. If you can make it in NYC, well you should be able to do alright handling an opening set at Fuji Rock too. J-squad began their set by introducing themselves to the small, but appreciative morning crowd. Their intros came in various ways. First the intro came musically. It started with the sax, then the keys, the standing bass, the drums and finally the trumpet player. Each member got a minute or two to greet the crowd with a short musical ‘how do you do’ to set the tone for things to come.
Some ten minutes later and our Afro-clad trumpeter was on the mic addressing the crowd in a mix of street slang in both Japanese and English. Their NYC roots came across as they introduced one another in English using phrases like, “my man on mothafuckin’ bass’ or ‘G-money on da drums…” The 50 minute set contained about a quarter of banter, joking between members and hyping each other up. When they did get down to musical business however it was clear this squad could really play. They basically sessioned, jammed, and soloed through their performance, but they did manage to get a couple original tunes in as well.
Their sound ranged from chilled out, acid-jazz like head boppers, to full on solo battles across the squad. They all have impressive skill and an attitude in how they play. Each member of the squad has a confidence and bravado that must be needed to survive as a jazz musician in the gritty New York music scene. At times the group seemed to hark to some of my other J-jazz favorites like the aforementioned ‘Soil and Pimp’, however J-squad has a bit more chill to their sound and more of a reliance on the backbeat than ‘Soil and Pimp” with frenzied their death jazz.
As a big fan of jazz, funk, soul, hip hop and all things in between, I’m always on the lookout for new discoveries in the genres. There was something special, that stuck out about this J-Squad. Being at Fuji Rock it was nice to discover another great Japanese band, playing in Japan, regardless of where they’re based out of.