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Hakuei Kim heads to the border for Yokohama Jazz Promenade

by Sean Smith

Special To The Japan Times

When you think about a so-called jazz capital of Japan, there are a couple of contenders. Kobe makes a claim to history, the first Japanese jazz band Laughing Stars started up there around 90 years ago. Tokyo has the overseas stars, being the actual capital gets you that kind of clout. Yokohama also has a case, with this weekend’s Yokohama Jazz Promenade claiming to be one of the biggest jazz events in the country.

“The great thing about Yokohama,” says pianist Hakuei Kim, “is that there are so many different jazz clubs, especially in the Kannai area. In a way, each club specializes in certain styles of jazz from the traditional to the avant-garde and beyond.”

This heavy concentration of jazz venues and a desire to have an event that would turn the entire city into a stage led to the establishment of the Promenade in 1993.

“Even though members of the general public may have an interest in jazz,” Kim says, “some feel it’s still difficult for them to set foot in these clubs on a regular night as they feel it’s something of a closed world.”

Well, this world is about to get more open. The Promenade is a good event, and accessibility has been one of the keys to its success. The shows are mostly during the day and most of them are accessible by a single pass. In something of a reflection of the variety of music on offer at the 21st Promenade, Kim alone will be appearing in three very different shows.

“Early on Saturday afternoon, I’ll perform as part of a duo with the great vibraphonist, Toshihiro Akamatsu,” he says. “We’ll be playing both standard jazz and our original compositions.”

Later that day, he’ll be playing as part of the quintet Generation Gap led by bassist Yoshio “Chin” Suzuki, an artist with a long and varied career that includes a stint with the hard-bop group Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers in the mid-1970s.

Finally, Kim’s third appearance will be Sunday when he leads his own trio, Trisonique. The group released its second album, “A Borderless Hour” earlier this summer — and it’s a real contender for the year’s best jazz album.

As the title suggests, Kim has set out to cross musical boundaries: “The concept came to me early on. The whole idea is about questioning the stereotypical borders that may exist in our lives, and our music was no exception. It didn’t matter whether it was jazz or not. The genre was no longer the issue.

“I was born a mix of Korean and Japanese and I’ve also spent more than 10 years in Australia. So, fortunately or unfortunately, ever since I was young I’ve had a lot of opportunities to see and think about the borders that exist in my life and have always wanted to go beyond them.”

Kim says the other members of the trio, bassist Tomokazu Sugimoto and drummer Hidenobu “Kalta” Otsuki, appreciated the border theme and tried to apply it to their own lives.

“Music was the only way we knew to get closer to our ideal, and this album is a result of those efforts,” Kim says.

“A Borderless Hour” certainly goes beyond the boundaries of a conventional piano trio, not least due to the incorporation of effects, electronics and an instrument called a Neovichord.

“This is a new instrument still being developed by professor Isoharu Nishiguchi at Kanagawa Polytechnic University,” Kim says. “It’s based on the mechanism of the clavichord, but it sounds a bit like an acoustic guitar. Unlike most keyboard instruments, it allows a player to bend the note he or she is playing by depressing the key deeper. You can even vibrate the note.”

Hakuei Kim will be playing the Neovichord as well as the piano and the trio will be incorporating various other effects in their Sunday set.

“We’ve been experimenting in order to find a good way to blend the acoustic instruments and the electric effects for quite some time now,” Kim says. “It wasn’t always an easy process, but we’ve just finished a long tour and we feel that the band’s sound is at its peak now. We’re really looking forward to playing Yokohama Jazz Promenade.”

Kim’s three shows at this year’s Promenade form just a small part of the program that also includes Yuichiro Tokuda Ralyzz Dig and Kankawa “Silent Soul” Band. For October at least, Yokohama is the nation’s undisputed jazz capital.

Yokohama Jazz Promenade takes place at various venues in Yokohama on Oct. 12 and 13. The shows begin at 11:30 a.m. and run at various times throughout the day until 9 p.m. Advanced day passes cost ¥4,000 for one person and ¥7,500 for a pair. A two-day pass for one costs ¥7,500. On the day of the event, single passes will cost ¥5,000 (passes for students cost ¥1,000). For more information, call 045-221-0212 or visit www.jazzpro.jp.