Gilles Peterson has spent his entire career buoyed by gushing enthusiasm, but when the London-based DJ and record label boss declared a gig in Tokyo on May 4 to be a “career highlight,” he was probably being sincere.
The Twitter outburst came during the climax of Worldwide Session, a scaled-up version of the annual Worldwide Showcase concerts that Peterson used to host at Tokyo’s Liquidroom venue. Club-jazz crowd-pleasers Soil & “Pimp” Sessions were sharing a stage with famed trumpeter Terumasa Hino, and the tune they were playing — Hino’s propulsive 1981 cut, “Merry Go Round” — was one with special significance to Peterson: it had been a source text for the U.K. acid jazz boom that he helped spearhead in the late-1980s.
Hino’s headline collaboration with Soil & “Pimp” Sessions proved to be an entertaining, if lopsided, affair. Given the band’s reputation for sustained athleticism in their live sets, it was interesting to see how they accommodated a strutting alpha-male ego like Hino, one of the only Japanese jazz musicians who could be described as a household name. Soil’s regular trumpeter, Tabu Zombie, visibly eased up when the band’s big-name collaborator left the stage, but saxophonist Motoharu proved more game, sparring in an energetic flurry of back-and-forth riffs.
Earlier in the day, violinist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson celebrated his birthday by leading his Ensemble through its debut Japan performance. A promiscuous figure on the Los Angeles music circuit, Atwood-Ferguson marries classical chops with strong links to the hip-hop scene (he’s signed to Brainfeeder, the label run by producer Flying Lotus). There were occasional hints of boom-bap during his hour-long set, but it stuck largely within a recognizable jazz idiom, deploying lush, ’70s-style chord progressions that evoked the unseasonably balmy weather outside.
Listeners tuning in to The Sun Ra Arkestra for the first time might have been pardoned for thinking they were a conventional big band with an unusual penchant for sequins. The costumes were outlandish, the music less so: in the course of an amiable but rather pedestrian performance, the group delivered off-kilter versions of familiar standards (“When You Wish Upon a Star,” “Every Day I Got the Blues”) but only occasionally hinted at the cosmic weirdness that it’s capable of channeling — notably during a rendition of the chaotic, polyrhythmic “Dancing Shadows” late in the set.
Then again, even its more ordinary moments were enlivened by the presence of bandleader Marshall Allen, whose discordant saxophone shrieks and synthesizer lines — played on a Steiner EVI wind controller — brought a welcome touch of chaos to the proceedings. That he’s due to mark his 92nd birthday later this month is remarkable.
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