Tokyo Jazz Festival 2014

The Tokyo Jazz Festival always features a mix of styles and performers from around the world and the 2014 edition was no exception.
Over the 2 1/2 days I caught sets by the following acts:

Friday Sept.5th

Klezmofobia – (Plaza Main Stage) Danish klezmer band. Good fun, they even had the Japanese audience do a chain dance at one point. Not sure how many in the crowd even knew what klemzer was but they were in to it.

Grand Pianoramax – (Plaza Main Stage) Swiss/American group featuing keyboards, drums and an MC/singer. Not for everyone but I liked it, liked that instrumentation. Bonus points for the drummer wearing a NY Yankees hat.

Saturday Sept.6th

Jaga Jazzist – (Main Hall) Norway’s finest! What else can I say about these guys? One of the best live acts around.

Jonas Haasvisto Trio – (Plaza Main Stage) From Finland, straight-ahead trio that sounded great but mid-day at the outdoor stage was perhaps not the best time for their set. It was VERY hot & humid then and the audience was a bit subdued.

Randy Brecker/Mike Stern/Makoto Ozone – (Main Hall) Fusion Ahoy! It is what it is. I dug it.

Dainius Pulauskas Group – (Plaza Main Stage) from Lithuania, really fun band that was hitting a lot of styles. The first tune was a funky, brassy one (the sax player was quoting the Average White Band) but they moved into more moody stuff after that. Seems to be a thriving jazz scene in Lithuania, I need to hear more.

Waseda University Modern Jazz Club – (Plaza Side Stage) Big band madness. All Herbie Hancock tunes done with a lot of tubas and horns, great fun.

Schroeder-Headz – (Plaza Main Stage) Japanese group. Keyboards, drums, bass and some added beats, Had never heard them before but liked their sound, will check out their Club Asia gig in October.

Cookin’ On 3 Burners – (Plaza Main Stage) Australian trio featuring the Hammond Organ. Super funky and tight, a great live show. Got to have some beers and chat with them after the show, solid group of guys and very up for more Japan gigs. Hope that happens!

Fabrizio Bosso – (Plaza Main Stage) I only caught a bit of his set but Fabrizio is an awesome musician. He’ll be back in Japan soon as his Blue Note shows last May were a big hit.

Sunday Sept.7th

Kenny Barron/Ron Carter/Benny Golson/Lenny White – (Main Hall) This was a treat! Benny Golson is a jazz giant from the old days, now 85 and still has a perfect tone on his sax. He’s also one of jazz’ greatest composers (the group played his standard ‘Blues March’) And what can you say about Ron Carter..his solo version of ‘You Are My Sunshine’ on bass was one of the most remarkable pieces of music I’ve ever heard. Brought tears to my eyes!

Ozone Makoto & No Name Horses vs The Christian McBride Big Band – (Main Hall) Two great big bands but they didn’t really go ‘head to head’. Good fun but I’m not a really a huge fan of big bands so..

Herbie Hancock Quartet – (Main Hall) This was a surprise! I hadn’t carefully checked who Herbie’s bandmates were for this gig so was a bit shocked to see the electric set up. The Vinnie Colaiuta – James Genus rhythm section was monstrously heavy (in the best way) and Lionel Loueke on guitar seemed to be channeling Prime Time-era Bern Nix. Herbie hinmself let loose on a variety of keyboards and got very ‘squonky’ in his solos. This was MUCH more fun than the usual acoustic Herbie Hancock performance, which can be a bit too safe for my tastes. It didn’t please everyone as a few people walked out in the middle but most of the audience were really into the extremely deep funk.

Ahmad Jamal Quartet – Highlight of the weekend!! Ahmad Jamal is a legendary pianist but someone whose work I was not so familiar with. (That’s changing now, already picked up two CDs of his). He is 84 but looks and plays full of energy and creativity, not at ALL the stodgy ‘academic’ player the critics often write about. And what a band! Reginald Veal on bass, Herlin Riley on drums, Manolo Badrena on percussion, all complete masters. These four have played together for years now and you could tell watching the performance as Ahmad would just quickly point or lift a hand briefly and the band knew exactly where he was going. Their music was rhythmically complex but always swinging, with Manolo’s percussion giving it that extra Latin groove. Just an all-around fantastic performance.

Unfortunately I missed the Uehara Hiromi Project and the rowdy-sounding Don’t Panic! We’re From Poland! sets but I heard both were excellent. All in all a great weekend of live music, already looking forward to next year!
(Minor complaint: only selling Suntory draft beer or bottles of Blue Moon Belgian White at the food tents outside is not going to cut it..more beer varieties please!)