Yokohama Jazz Promenade 2015 Recap

The Yokohama Jazz Promenade is always a full weekend of great music, spread out all around the port city. I could only go on Sunday this year but had a very full day popping in and out of several venues.

I picked up my badge at the Sakuragicho Station info booth then zoomed over to the Aka Renga Hall for the first show of the day. This was the ‘world’ jazz stage and the opening act was simakDialog from Indonesia. This group has been around for more than 20 years with some varying lineups but always led by keyboardist Riza Arshad. They were superb live, combining jazz & traditional Javanese music with hints of gamelan in Arshad’s percussive piano playing. They have released six albums to date, I need to go get some of them right away.

From there I walked over to the NHK Hall hoping to see the N/Y duo but by the time I got there the small hall was full with at least another 25 people trying to get in. The main hall performace at that time didn’t look so appealing so I decided to grab lunch before heading over to Little John. (Side note to the lady vocalists in the NHK Hall lobby; smiling and engaging the audience is great but please, please stop singing in English. Your pronunciation was so horrible it sounded like some unknown language.)

The One-Day pass for the YJP lets you go in and out of any of the 40+ venues having performances, a real bargain. I decided to walk walk over to the Little John jazz bar in Yoshida-cho near Kannai Station to catch a guitar quartet. Little John is kind of a mysterious place, it seems to only open for the occasional live gig these days. The bartender told me the owner is ‘a bit funny in the head’ and so doesn’t come around much.. Regardless, the Shonan Guitar Shop guys were great, playing some standards and Brazilian tunes in duo, trio and quartet forms. Standards are fine when the arrangements are mixed up a bit, and the guitar guys were real fun and groovy.

After their first set I rushed down to Bar First near Hinode-cho station to catch vibes player Koki Nishimura’s sextet. This did not seem like a regular group based on their banter, but they were excellent. Edgy solos with some unexpected choices of covers by Steve Swallow and Chick Corea. I loved the back and forth between the vibes and drums.

Quick soba shop visit and then I rushed over to Kannai Hall to catch Fumio Itabashi’s FIT+. The place was packed and there was good energy in the crowd, which the group fed on. I was skeptical of the tap dancer Leona on stage at first but she and Itabashi got into an extended, heavy Latin-style vamp where her percussive tapping and his machine-gun piano really took off. Fun band and a lively, great performance.

I wrapped up the day at the Kaiko Kinen Kaikan (Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall), a Meiji-Era building and Yokohama landmark.  Trombonist Shigeharu Mukai has been a mainstay of the Japanese jazz scene for 40+years playing bop, fusion, big-band and everything else in between. His quintet at this gig was pure class playing bop standards. Extra points for drummer Yoshihito Eto, really swinging.

Five gigs + the random outdoor stages spread all around town, a great deal at only 4300 Yen (about US$40) for the one day pass. Next year I’ll be sure to get the two-day pass to enjoy the whole weekend.


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Mr. OK Jazz is a 20+ year resident of Japan and spends all his free time wandering the Kanto area looking for jazz cafes, bars, clubs and record stores. For two years he hosted the OK Jazz radio show on InterFM Radio, currently the OK Jazz podcast. You can reach him at *protected email*