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One of the common impressions of Japanese jazz is of skilled technicians working studiously within the confines of jazz tradition to turn out polished music. Indeed, many Japanese jazz musicians fail to exploit the full potential of jazz improvisation, preferring instead to remain dedicated, humble craftsmen, honing their skills and leaving the boundaries right where they found them. Two new quintets — the Shigeo Aramaki Group and the Hiroshi Fukumura Quintet — delightfully smash this stereotype into smithereens. Both groups have a brash, open and unrestrained approach that follows the spirit of jazz more than the letter.

These two groups, both formed within the past year, are comprised of well-established musicians. The members of each quintet lead their own individual groups and have made their own recordings, but the particular collective spirit they embrace when together is special. Both Aramaki and Fukumura know how to create open, flexible structures in which the different individual styles amplify the strengths of the others with creative tension. All too often, the members of a jazz group have to submerge their identities to the leader’s demands, but in these groups, the leaders construct a rough agenda for each piece and let the musicians take the songs apart in their own way. The resulting interplay brings out an exuberant openness and unaffected roughness that is unusual in Tokyo’s jazz scene.

The roots of Fukumura’s group have been growing for 30-some years. Fukumura played trombone with pianist Fumio Itabashi’s group before attending the New England Conservatory in 1974. He studied under the sway of free jazz, popular at the time with musicians and teachers such as Jaki Byard. Returning to Japan, though, Fukumura found himself playing standards and fusion. Still, neither direction was time wasted. For Fukumura, balance is important. “If it’s only free, it’s too much,” he said. “I want to play standards, but freely. The romantic element is still necessary.”

On originals such as “J1” and “K1” (even the names have a work-in-progress feel), the band starts with rather catchy, even romantic, melodies only to blast open the chord changes once they get rolling. The blistering solos from saxophonist Nao Takeuchi and the centrifugal force of Itabashi’s keyboard playing quickly dismantle the pretty lead lines. Underneath them, drummer Dairiki Hara moves between simmering laid-back support and disruptive provocation, while bassist Nobuyoshi Ino keeps the backbone in place. Their transitions between restrained lyricism and discordant energy feel effortless. “I want to play both hard and soft,” Fukumura explained, “But always, always natural.”

Part of the naturalness is reflected in the way Fukumura casually brought them together. The band’s offhand creation sounds like an impromptu jam session. “I still play in Itabashi’s orchestra, so I just asked him to join and he did. As for Takeuchi, I like his sound. Ino was an old friend. We made some albums together a long time ago, so he joined. Hara was in my last group, the Afternoon Jazz Band,” Fukumura said.

Though they rarely practice, the group is intensely focused, and their high level of improvisation and interaction demands energy and attention. You can see the members breathe a sigh of relief when Fukumura calls a break between sets.

“This is the music I really want to do,” Fukumura said, and it shows. The solid self-assurance of their free jazz was well worth the 30-year evolution.

The Shigeo Aramaki Group also delves into free jazz territory when the spirit takes them, but they create their energy with a blues-based, bop-spiced mixture. In Japanese jazz, the influence of bop’s fast-fingered technique is apparent everywhere, but the blues is conspicuous in its absence. Perhaps many Japanese groups are uncomfortable with the authentic language of the blues, but Aramaki has no such worries. He digs right in. His deep blues feeling (which he also contributes to blues bands like Blues File No. 1) enables him to hammer out the floorboards for standards, tricky Thelonious Monk numbers and rootsy originals.

The influence on Aramaki’s approach to Charles Mingus (the band’s first two CDs are called “Changes One” and “Changes Two” after Mingus’ classics) is clearly evident. The similar way of building on core elements until they crack wide open creates a raucous discord at times, but ultimately it ups the energy level. As leader, Aramaki is less concerned with structures, though, than with forward momentum. The deep, pounding energy springing from his muscular bass pulls everyone along in its wake.

Saxman Joh Yamada described his leadership with a laugh: “Aramaki was a catcher on the high school baseball team, so he has that sense of watching the entire field. It’s the same now, keeping it all together.”

Aramaki’s central anchor allows the two-sax front line of Yamada and Nao Takeuchi (who also plays with Fukumura) to create impetuous lead lines that veer and diverge wildly. These melody lines generate as much friction as harmony. Pianist Keiichi Yoshida enhances this inner tension with tight comping and neat, elegant solos at Bud Powell-like speeds. He pulls his notes bodily from the keyboard with his lean frame bent nearly double. Takeuchi is just as self-demanding, taking solos with rough physicality, releasing lungfuls of forceful notes until Yamada picks up the baton for the next leg. Rather than simply keeping time, drummer Yoshihito Etoh creates space and textures for the others, splitting the beats into finer and finer variations that push the soloists hard.

After their cathartic gig Wednesday at Club Rooster in Nishi-Ogikubo, the players looked as if they’d run a marathon. Aramaki was too exhausted to talk much. At the end of the set, he slugged down an oolong tea and slumped in his chair. This wasn’t natsubate (summer droopiness); it was recuperation.

“We’ve just released our second CD, recorded live, and we have quite a few gigs coming up,” he said, catching his breath. Then, nodding and trying to catch his second wind, he went to take down his equipment.

Both Fukumura’s and Aramaki’s quintets are hardworking bands. What is most striking about them is just how they manage to bring together the individual styles of the musicians without slipping into an over-polished sound or easy emotionality. They are confident enough to follow diverse directions at once to create a rougher, more intuitive sound that is a welcome addition to the Tokyo jazz scene.

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