Jazz fans have dozens of excellent festivals to choose from throughout Japan, with lineups covering a broad base from slick, traditional-minded swing to in-your-face free jazz. At most festivals, one would have to have to be either deaf or drunk to love everything on the schedule, but part of why festivals fascinate is because they provide us with the chance to hear something new. Three important, new jazz groups worth making the effort to catch will play at three different summer jazz festivals this year.
Appearing at the Newport Jazz Festival in Madarao, Nagano Prefecture, one of the most beautiful venues for any festival, will be The Bad Plus, which released its first CD earlier this year. The Bad Plus caught the ears of many critics and listeners, and vaulted the group onto many a review page. This young U.S. trio of piano, bass and drums sounds nothing like traditional piano trios. Instead, they have brash, unpredictable arrangements and a confrontational attitude that helps them re-invent the dynamics of the small group. They aren’t afraid of rock tunes, either, working over songs from Nirvana and Blondie with a fresh ear and strikingly accomplished chops. With only one release out — but no doubt another in the works — they are a band to catch on its first visit to Japan.
Though Joshua Redman seemed accepting of his earlier role as a young, sexy jazz star (his sales were notably good through a string of CDs) the Elastic Band takes a more serious and exploratory approach to the music. After a series of popular, straight jazz recordings rocketed him to early fame, this new band is taking Redman in a fresh direction. This keyboard, sax and drums trio sounds at times like Weather Report, but brings in a wide array of interesting textures, tempos and rhythms that make them sound much larger. Elastic Band packed venues last year in Tokyo and have a hint of jam band in their approach to extended, dynamic soloing. Catch Redman and the Elastic Band at Tokyo Jazz 2003 — to be held in one of the soccer stadiums used for the 2002 World Cup — along with an excellent lineup of other top-notch musicians.
The Brecker Brothers are hardly new, but they sound as if they are. They will be one of the best-known groups on the bill at the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival, an easy day trip from Tokyo. One of the finest fusion bands of the ’70s, they released several highly popular recordings that featured heavy hitters from the jazz world jamming to funky, rocklike beats. The Brothers worked with pop forms, but also wrote complicated charts and maintained demanding improvisational standards. Eventually, after veering too far toward commercialism, they split up. Brother Michael became one of jazz’s leading saxophonists, in constant demand for recordings and releasing his own superb CDs, while Brother Randy kept to the funkier, funner side of jazz. Randy, however, has recently shown he’s getting serious again with the release last year of “34th and Lex,” a nice revival of the Brothers’ earliest, most accomplished style, with Michael on sax. Since the reunion isn’t really official, you don’t won’t want to miss this.
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