Soil creates life with ‘death jazz’

by Sarah Noorbakhsh

“The Lounge Lizards and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in a Japanese brothel,” is how acclaimed U.K. DJ and record-label owner Gilles Peterson has described funky jazz sextuplet Soil & “Pimp” Sessions.

Formed around 2001 by a group of like-minded musicians looking to put the funky flavor and body-rocking swing sounds back into plain-Jane jazz, the group has managed to produced six albums in between a harried schedule of domestic and international concerts.

Their latest album — aptly named “Six” — is a culmination of their years of experience and an appreciation for their mixed musical backgrounds, with tracks featuring world-renowned turntable master DJ Kentaro and English crossover jazz artist Jamie Cullum. Although it only hit the shelves last month, fans were quick to declare the album to be Soil’s most refined and tightest-sounding work yet, something the group humbly agrees with. “On this record we were able to do things we always wanted to do in the past but couldn’t, both because of the limits of technology and the limits of our skills,” said Soil’s lead, Shacho, at an interview at their record label Victor Entertainment’s Omotesando office.

One of Soil’s main goals and biggest achievement in the creation of “Six” was to give the album the same passion and warmth as a live show, something they chalk up to an improvement in recording technology and their maturation as musicians. “That kind of thing is difficult to do in a booth with no audience,” explained keyboardist Josei, “but this time around I think we succeeded in a good balance of aggressiveness that’s easy to listen to.”

The band also wanted to incorporate vocals into the album, something achieved through a much awaited collaboration with longtime friend Ringo Shiina on the upbeat track “My Foolish Heart -crazy on earth-.” An additional version of the song, entitled “My Foolish Heart -crazy in Shibuya-” is also available as an iTunes-only release — for now.

Over a period of three months, Soil hammered out the details of tunes composed during freestyle sessions and on the road, filling in the cracks between shows and personal projects to work with collaborators and produce an album they could be truly satisfied with. “Six” is the album the band and many fans consider to be the closest to that essential live sound Soil is famous for.

Live shows are indeed the core of the Soil & “Pimp” Sessions experience, and the group is infamous for their energetic and vibrant concerts. Shacho the “agitator” heats up the crowd, cigar in hand, as the group’s cool and commanding conductor. The horns of Tabu Zombie and Motoharu blare in an electrifying hodgepodge around him while the quick fingers of Akita Goldman on bass and Midorin on drums speed things up, set to a melody provided by Josei. “A show is an instance in time that only happens once,” explains Shacho. “It’s an experience that you create together with the audience, bouncing energy back and forth against each other. A show is something that definitely helps us grow as musicians.”

High-energy live shows are not only something the band thrives on, but what brought them together in the first place. At the beginning of the decade, the band members met at a jam session in Roppongi for musicians looking to pry jazz out from its stale, old spot in dark jazz clubs and put it back out onto the dance floor like in the days of the high-speed swing movement. Together, Soil & “Pimp” Sessions combined their own individual flavors into what became known as bakuon (explosive) jazz, a genre they later chose to rename “death jazz.”

“We wanted to capture the punkish emotional power of our sound into one word,” Josei explained, “so we looked to the term ‘death metal’ and picked that up to express the same kind of energy.”

That expression of explosive beats is as far as the “death” connotation goes, however, and Soil’s music lacks any of the morbid imagery of its namesake. The metal-like energy that goes into their shows does, however, at times reveal itself to be an occupational hazard. In 2004, saxophonist Motoharu broke a bone after an enthusiastic leap off a two-meter-high stage at the end of a performance. At another show, Midorin broke one of his fingers after hitting it with his own drumstick. “We were surprised to find how well he could still play, even with a broken finger,” the band laughed.

As they set out on their 2009 world tour to take “Six” for a spin, avoiding injury is just one of the goals Soil have set for themselves. The group’s theme this time around is something along the lines of “no regrets,” to enjoy all the things they missed out on during past tours. While there were no specifics forthcoming about what kind of regrets this troupe of explosive jazz pioneers may have had in the past, they clearly seem bent on making this series of shows into their personal best. As quiet but well-spoken bassist Akita put it succinctly, “We’ve finally made an album we’re really satisfied with, now we want to take it on the road and watch it grow.”

Soil & “Pimp” Sessions kick off their World Tour 2009 Nov. 6 at Club Riverst, Niigata (7 p.m.; advance tickets cost ¥4,000). They will perform throughout the country from Nov. 6 until Dec. 11. For more information, visit www.soilpimp.com