Tokyo Jazz Festival 2011, The Report - Day 2

Tokyo Jazz Festival, Saturday, September 3rd

Watch the video of Day 2 on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQwY5HtDcCI

In this series of three parts, jazz writer and author of the book "Miles: The Companion Guide To The Miles Davis Autobiography" will give his own personal accounts and reactions to Tokyo Jazz Festival 2011 which took place three consecutive days at the beginning of the month of September. Each part will correspond to each appropriate day of the festival. This report is for day two.

Tokyo, Japan (Marc Antomattei Press) -- The second day opened up just how the first ended, great! The beginning half of the day from 1 to 4 p.m. was dubbed "Jazz Picture" and showcased three bands, the first of which to play were The Count Basie Orchestra, the big band of seventeen members plus a conductor (Dennis Mackrel). They started off the afternoon with a back-to-basics older style of jazz harkened back to big band and swing era days. A couple of tunes heard from The Count Basie Orchestra include "To You," a tune from back in 1961 when Count Basie met Duke Ellington, and "Whirly Bird." Band tenor saxophonist Doug Miller had a great solo going on "Whirly Bird." It was a relaxing and enlightening start to the day being able to listen to the great hour of music they put on.

Unfortunately it was bewildering listening to the next group take stage because they brought classical music to a jazz festival. A bit of blasphemy because the music wasn't appropriate for the show in the least bit, especially going on after The Count Basie Orchestra and before the Michel Legrand Trio.

Richard Galliano and Naoko Terai with Orchestra Camerata Ducale from Italy really took a misstep with the music. It is possible to live with some diversity of genre bending at a jazz festival or concert because jazz has so many sub-genres itself, it can embrace some elements from other genres of music, but this performance included zero percent jazz. Jazz is a product of African-American culture and arguably America's greatest contribution to the arts. Now you don't have to be African-American at all to play it, but the genre should be respected by whoever plays it. The organizers of this festival really brought in some great talent for this year and for a great price for the customer to pay for entry, but this was a bad decision on their behalf.

Imagine if it were a Japanese traditional folk music festival listeners were attending with Japanese enka music, samisen and sanshin instruments, and at some point during the show a performer comes on stage and begins playing a flamenco guitar or Irish bagpipes, now you can comprehend just how irrelevant and absurd this performance was to the whole theme of the event. It was absurd for the organizers to think jazz and classical music are so easily interchangeable like that. It's not like what they were playing was bad music, it's just that people are coming into the auditorium with a mindset on jazz and expecting jazz at a jazz festival and are getting something else they didn't ask for. It felt betraying.

It was totally refreshing to have Michel Legrand and the other two members of his trio take over before the two-hour intermission halfway through the day. Legrand played one beautiful original ballad during his set titled "What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life." Two more memorable tunes from Legrand's performance were those of Miles Davis. Davis played a very significant part in Legrand's career. Legrand's first album was with Davis and Davis' last album was with Michel, so everything comes full circle with Legrand's two-track tribute to Davis. The first of these tunes to be played was "My Funny Valentine"; Legrand did all of Mile's trumpet blows by the sounds of his voice, which was rather creative. The tune was very sweet, slow, and extremely mellow. It sounded as if Legrand spent a meticulous amount of time in really learning these tunes thoroughly to play them perfectly. On the second tune "The Jam Session" (although if I can recall correctly I think Legrand called it "The Dingo Runs Fast" at this festival), taken from the motion picture soundtrack of the film "Dingo," it was interesting listening to Legrand replace Davis' parts and licks with his piano.

After the Legrand performance, the hall broke for recess from 4 to 6 p.m., and returning from that the night continued until closing with what was dubbed as the "Groove" period of the event. The Groove period brought everyone into a much more upbeat and up- tempo, livelier part of the event. Japanese club jazz and nu-jazz group "quasimode" (spelled with a lowercase q) really showed that the Japanese pros could jam up there with the best of the foreign pack. It was great that many Japanese acts were apart of this jazz festival's showcase because a lot of them are underrated musicians. The sad part is that they will continue to fall on blind eyes and deaf ears to the western world. Tokyo has a large foreign community but one could barely see any foreigners in attendance on day two, out of the hundreds to thousands of people there, the foreign crowd could be counted on one hand.

Continuing the groove was a Japanese favorite Incognito, the UK acid jazz band that began a little over thirty years ago. Led by bandleader Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick, Incognito annually performs in Tokyo and all around Japan in venues such as Blue Note Tokyo, Blue Note Osaka, Blue Note Nagoya and at various other jazz festivals. The Japanese people really love and know their music. For a large part of their performance, Incognito had the crowd standing on their feet, dancing, clapping and waving their hands. They earn a lot of points for great showmanship and for bringing a lot of excitement to the show. Performing live they usually play different arrangements of their back music catalogue that can be found on their fourteen albums. Some tunes played by Incognito on this night included "Nights Over Egypt," "Reach Out," "Everyday," and their closing song "Love For Japan." "Love For Japan" is a single written especially for the benefit and victims of the March 11th earthquake. Before they exited the stage, Bluey gave a great message to the audience. Unfortunately I didn't transcribe it as he was saying it, I did try however to jot it down on paper about two or three minutes after he finished making it. Although not a direct word-for-word quote, I will try to retell it like he said it as best as I can.

"For the past few months, when the rest of the world turned on the TV all people saw was Japan. What we saw is that Japan has great dignity in this time of crisis. People elsewhere in the world would be running crazy, stealing things, burning things down, but not Japan. After the earthquake disaster and tsunami and radiation problem which is still ongoing, people found ways of doing things and trying to help anyway they could by saving power and coming together as a nation. Thank you for your courage. I have great respect for your nation. Now we are here joined together at a festival. What is a festival? A festival is a celebration of life, and we are united one nation under a groove."

The eloquence of how he put the words together and delivered it so honestly and from the heart was moving, it was the way the night should have ended, but alas it wasn't over yet, one final act still remained to play.

The final act of day two was pianist Hiromi Uehara of Japan and the other two members of her trio, bassist Anthony Jackson from the USA and drummer Simon Phillips from the UK. Hiromi Uehara herself is one of Japan's most successful and celebrated jazz musicians who had been lucky enough to break into the western music market. Discovered by Chick Corea in Tokyo, she is one of the more widely known and listened to Japanese performers here and abroad. Although she possesses a good technical skill on the piano her music can be a bit hit or miss. She was classically trained first and later introduced to jazz, and that's the way it felt at this festival, like her music at points was lacking a jazz feel to it and had too strong of something else there instead. She is also a bit on the quirky side when she performs, she is a bit too excited all the time and squirmish, oftentimes standing up at the piano, sitting back down, and then doing it again. It's a big distraction trying to concentrate on the music while watching someone do wacky body movements, head twitching, and facial expression changes all the time. This feeling is probably parallel with the way Miles Davis felt about Louis Armstrong and all the grinning he did (but he wasn't doing that while he was playing mind you), even though he thought he was a great trumpet player. The night overall went from super exciting with the audience standing up for both quasimode and Incognito to being toned down for the final act. Whatever happened to finishing on a high note?

Day 2 Program - Saturday, September 3rd
-JAZZ PICTURE-

1:00 pm ~ 1:55 pm
The Count Basie Orchestra

2:05 pm ~ 2:55 pm
Richard Galliano and Naoko Terai "THE PIAZZOLA PROJECT"
with Orchestra Camerata Ducale -from Italy-

3:10 pm ~ 4:00 pm
Michel Legrand Trio

-GROOVE-

6:00 pm ~ 6:50 pm
quasimode

7:05 pm ~ 7:55 pm
Incognito

8:10 pm ~ 9:00 pm
Hiromi THE TRIO PROJECT
feat. Anthony Jackson and Simon Phillips

Copyright © 2011 Marc Antomattei Press.
Images courtesy of Marc Antomattei Press and may not be used for any purpose without the explicit consent of Marc Antomattei.

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