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04/10/14

Takuya Kuroda
Rising Son
Blue Note Records

Japanese trumpeter Takuya Kuroda currently works with singer José James, and Rising Son shares James’ controversial penchant for genre bending. (James also produced the album, Kuroda’s first for Blue Note and fourth overall, and performs on one track.) It’s alternately jazz, funk, hip-hop, R&B, Afrobeat and club music, but the music isn’t as muddled as that might sound; actually, it’s quite tight. But it’s not always successful, either.

The tunes follow a pattern: Drummer Nate Smith establishes a groove on which Solomon Dorsey and Kris Bowers vamp with bass and Rhodes electric piano, respectively, until Kuroda and trombonist Corey King enter with a unison melody. But there’s enough rhythmic and melodic variety to prevent monotony. The hard-edged hip-hop of “Piri Piri” follows “Afro Blues,” an intoxicating Afrobeat pastiche (no relation to the jazz standard) spiced by guest Lionel Loueke’s guitar. Meanwhile, the Latin-disco “Mala”—on which King sits out and Bowers switches to acoustic piano—leads into James’ sexy R&B vocal, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” There’s even internal variety: The title track juxtaposes a dark melody for processed horns and Rhodes with a party-time funk rhythm. And, of course, there are smart, virtuosic solos by (mostly) Kuroda and Bowers, who particularly shine on the mellow closer, “Call.”

The clubby aspect of the disc is its use of extended rhythmic vamps à la 12-inch dance records. Here the music fails, because there’s too much time spent on too little. “Mala” ends with over a minute of vamping. “Piri Piri” insists on including its 16-bar intro with every chorus except the improvised ones—vamps at the expense of solo space. Must jazz hobble itself to gain relevance?

Originally published in March 2014
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