Playwright imprint focuses on newer jazz acts

by Sean Smith

Special To The Japan Times

At a time when stories about declining music sales are frequent and major labels aren’t investing in new talent, hearing about an indie label like Playwright is music to the ears.

The young jazz label’s first release came out in October, and in the space of only six months it has already compiled a roster of five bands.

Label head Keisuke Taniguchi is no stranger to the music business. He works for DIW Products, which is a division of nationwide distributor Disc Union. In particular, he has extensive experience within DIW in running Think! Records, a jazz label that should be familiar to dedicated fans of the genre in Japan. Desipte Think!’s success, though, he still felt the desire to set up a new imprint under the DIW umbrella.

“Think! Records made its name through reissues,” Taniguchi tells The Japan Times. “Although we put out a couple of new titles in the past, we were very aware of the strong association the music-buying public has between Think! and reissues, and that the new releases weren’t really attracting the right kind of attention. So we decided to set up a new label that focuses entirely on new releases from contemporary artists.”

Among the artists signed so far are club-jazz trio Tres-men and piano trio Fox Capture Plan, each with its own distinct sound.

“I was introduced to Tres-men by the group Immigrant’s Bossa Band, who I’ve worked with for some time,” Taniguchi says. Tres-men is led by DJ and producer Yoshijiro Sakurai, who also organizes the Bossanova Underground night at club Noon in Osaka, where Immigrant’s Bossa Band have previously performed.

Tres-men’s self-titled debut features covers of six rare-groove classics from overseas artists reinterpreted in Japanese club-jazz fashion. The emphasis is very much on the dancefloor, with some tunes such as “Why” (featuring label mates Orange Pekoe) and the instrumental “Cosmic Lust” showing mainstream crossover potential.

Fox Capture Plan, whose mini-album “Flexible” was Playwright’s first release, play a brand of contemporary jazz-rock built on big piano chords and catchy hooks over a thumping rhythm section. The band built its reputation on the live circuit over the past couple of years with sets that include covers of Björk and Oasis tunes. Fox Capture Plan’s much-anticipated first full album, “Trinity,” will be released May 15.

The Tres-men and Fox Capture Plan albums, along with recent releases from Orange Pekoe and Bohemianvoodoo in late 2012, mark a busy first six months for Playwright, though this represents just the start of the label’s plans.

“We’ll be releasing a new album from Immigrant’s Bossa Band in the summer,” Taniguchi says. “We’re also looking at one or two other acts to join the label. Beyond that I’m planning to put out some vinyl versions of our releases.”

Given the global industry’s overall move toward digital formats, this could seem like an ambitious program, but Playwright are optimistic.

“When you look at the music market globally, there’s been a significant shift to digital downloads,” Taniguchi says. “When I went to Europe, I was surprised that there are so few albums sold in physical formats these days.

“In Japan, however, people still seem to want to have a physical product, and there are still a significant number of CD shops that are putting a lot of effort into their sales. As an independent label, we don’t have the budget to do huge promotions, so we rely on building a relationship of trust with the retailers to get our music out there.”

Taniguchi adds that the name Playwright, together with the quill logo, was not chosen at random. “The job of a playwright is to tell stories,” he says. “And with this label we want to tell the story of the artists we’ve signed and reflect what’s going on now.”

Tres-Men’s self-titled album is in stores now. Fox Capture Plan’s debut, “Trinity,” is scheduled to hit stores May 15. For more information, visit www.playwright.jp, www.foxcaptureplan.net or www.tres-men.com.