Age is just a number, but for 76-year-old alto saxophonist Sadao Watanabe, some numbers matter. September sees Watanabe — fans and admirers refer to him as “Nabesada” — celebrate the 25th anniversary of Sadao’s Club, his yearly concert series. Watanabe started Sadao’s Club to introduce new, usually foreign musicians to his fans in Japan. Lately, the series has become an annual opportunity for fans to see the man himself, arguably the most decorated Japanese jazz musician.
The first day of his concert series is also the release date of his 70th album, “Into Tomorrow.” Showing a keen sensibility, Watanabe’s new album showcases a balanced restraint and moderation. There are no loud, flashy solos or attention-getting, technical bravura. Like the best of pianist Dave Brubeck’s albums, the songs are about the band, not the bandleader. Nine of the 11 tracks begin with piano intros, before Watanabe’s sophisticated sound — be it in a cool or warm timbre — carries the melody. The songs range from the absorbing lead track “Butterfly” to samba flavors on the aptly titled “Not Quite a Samba” and “Itapua~ (On the Beach),” on which Watanabe plays the flute with a light, vibrant touch. Watanabe even ventures into emotively political territory with the haunting “Times Ago (For Tibetan People).”
Performing with a trio of young, sterling, New York musicians (Gerald Clayton on piano, Ben Williams on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums), whose combined age is 80, Watanabe continues in his 58th year as a professional to drive himself creatively with a refreshing, youthful exuberance, refined by experience, on a solid, dignified album. That sound and style will be on full display for fans lucky enough to still secure seats.
Sadao Watanabe plays Blue Note Tokyo on Sept. 2-5 at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. from Wednesday to Friday; 6 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets are ¥8,400; (03) 5485-0088. For more information visit www.bluenote.co.jp