Music

Tokyo Jazz Festival celebrates its 15th anniversary with an ensemble of top-notch musicians

by Frank Spignese

Special To The Japan Times

Tokyo Jazz Festival is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year and its lineup is a healthy mix of up-and-coming artists and giants of the genre.

Among the heavy hitters will be pianists Makoto Ozone, Herbie Hancock and Hiromi Uehara. Ozone will front a big band composed of musicians from local music colleges along with students from the prestigious Juliard School of Music in New York. Hancock, a regular at the festival, will lead a quartet featuring neo-soul singer Lalah Hathaway. While the wildly popular Uehara promises to provide some of the more esoteric music on hand. For the festival she’ll be jamming with equally-inimitable Dominican pianist Michel Camilo.

The Uehara-Camilo collaboration isn’t the only “East meets West” pairing. With the festival’s theme of “Beyond Borders, Beyond Generations,” there’s a healthy dose of interesting pairings throughout the event. Japan’s first true jazz export, Sadao Watanabe, joins a quartet featuring renowned trumpeter Wallace Roney and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. The New York hard-boppers backing Watanabe will keep him swinging and eschewing the smooth fusion of his later career. Violinist Naoko Terrai and Argentine pianist Pablo Ziegler promise to provide some true romance. Terrai’s elegance and Ziegler’s sultry tango will make September feel like scorching mid-summer. And pianist Mayuko Katakura plays with Dutch saxophonist Benjamin Herman for some bouncing cool bop sounds.

The free outdoor International Forum Plaza performances are a godsend for cash-strapped fans, and feature less traditional music and more unhinged performances. Another perk of the Plaza is that you can jump around a bit more.

Mighty Japanese jazz squads Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro and Tri4th should not be missed: two bad-boy big-bands that rock, stomp and imbue their tunes with an element of gangster cool. Pakistan’s Sachal Jazz Ensemble add tabla, sitar and a holy mountain of strings to its heady cross-cultural bouillabaisse. While Myriad3 is a youthful Canadian piano trio that keeps it experimental and contemporary while staying deep in the tradition. (Frank Spignese)

Tokyo Jazz Festival runs Sept. 2-4 at Tokyo International Forum and Cotton Club in Minato-ku, Tokyo. For more information on schedules, visit www.tokyo-jazz.com.