Remember D'Angelo? Takuya Kuroda and his producer Jose James
certainly do—this excellent collection has that loose, swampy, stoned
feel from 'Voodoo' closer than anyone since, putting across that feel of
thick, still air on a scorching hot, languid, afternoon perfectly.
D'Angelo worked because he signposted a way to fuse the classic jazz
influenced soul of say Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Al Green and even
Prince to modern hip hop grooves without diminishing either genre. By
putting that sound into a soulful jazz context Kuroda has arguably
chosen to accentuate one of the elements in that original mix so that
the whole can be kept fresh sounding while new possibilities can be
explored by his excellent band.
The key to getting this sound
right is the choices of personnel and instrumentation made by the
bandleader and Kuroda clearly knows what he is doing. So, for instance, Corey King's trombone adds to the feel of warmth that fits well with the Afro-beat influence that emerges on a couple of tracks and Kris Bowers
opts for the more muted tones of the Fender Rhodes on all but one of
his featured tracks. The Afro-beat influence probably bubbles through
from Kuroda's 6 years in the Brooklyn based Akoya and he has spoken in
interview of how that gig was important in teaching him the importance
of musical feel as opposed to say the more musical theory orientated
dues paid by the modern classical or jazz musician. Lionel Loueke's
inventive and unconventional guest spot solo on "Afro Blues" is a good
example of how to keep that looseness or feel within an original rhythm
pattern, but still find a way to take it further. As Kuroda put it
simply in a recent interview, Loueke "killed it."
Kuroda and James have worked together in James' band since the singer's Black Magic
collection of 2010, and the more groove led approach was apparently at
the latter's instigation. James himself contributes an impressionistic
vocal cameo on the first of two Roy Ayers' covers—the successful trip
hop update of "Everybody Loves the Sunshine." The core quintet are
clearly comfortable with the musical direction and play beautifully
throughout, showing a great understanding for example in the uplifting
call and response interplay between Kuroda and Corey King on tracks like
"Piri Piri" and title track "Rising Son."
That is not to say
that the album is all about soulful, Afro-beat dynamics however—one of
the highlights is the gentle sensitivity of "Sometime, Somewhere,
Somehow" whose melancholic trumpet and shuffling beat was apparently
inspired by the significant loss of Kuroda's grandfather. On "Mala" too
the band do a reasonable approximation of the early Blue Note work of Erik Truffaz or maybe even the sort of territory that Nils Petter Molvaer explored in the late 1990s, but this is far from a straight bop album.
Kuroda has expressed a desire to return to playing the more straight
ahead jazz of his previous work, here the seam of creativity that runs
through this modern fusion collection appears far from exhausted. As a
debut for Blue Note the album was clearly intended to make a statement
and it succeeds admirably on its own terms. Let's just hope Kuroda
manages to follow it up somewhat quicker than D'Angelo has managed with
"Voodoo" where the clock currently approaches 14 years!-
The name Takuya Kuroda should sound very familiar to fans of Blue Note recording artist José James.
If you’ve ever seen James live, or caught one of his many YouTube live
sessions, you will have seen Kuroda in action anchoring the horn section
behind James’ powerful vocals.
The Japanese trumpeter and composer made his first trip to the U.S. just 13 years ago. He couldn’t speak a word of English,
but the universal language of jazz provided the framework for the most
unlikely manifestation of the American Dream – Becoming a jazz musician.
After honing his chops at New York’s New School, and learning the
ins-and-outs of the business alongside James, he’s ready to step out
into the spotlight with his Blue Note Records debut ‘Rising Son.’The album is supremely accessible – A simmering mix of the cultures and influences that make Kuroda one of the most distinctive young players around. From the entrancing Lionel Loueke-assisted
afrobeat rhythms of “Afro Blue,” to the big drums of hip-hop infused
“Piri Piri,” to the soulful vibes of Roy Ayers cover “Green and Gold”
(my personal favorite cut on the album), to the funky vibes of another
Ayers cover of “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” with José James on
vocals – Elements are mixed and melded as they permeate every corner of
the album to create a near-perfect combination of the old and the new
atop a foundation of jazz. This isn’t an album you can’t sit still and listen to – The result of album
producer Jose James’ influence. He told Kuroda: “Make sure you have
something in the music that makes people bob their heads.” Musicians
take note – This is timeless advice.
But the question that will no doubt be on every commentators mind is:
Is It Jazz? I can almost hear the jazz-purist blogger’s keyboards
tapping away as they pontificate about the issue, but at the end of the
day none of that matters. Genre is not as easily defined as I may make
it seem in the last paragraph, and as a community (if you believe a
‘jazz community’ exists), it’s time to hang up these outdated notions
and barriers that provide some rigid and arbitrary definition of
something that is fluid, ever-flowing, and ever-evolving.
Everything you need to know about this album can be summed up in a
single sentence. Rising Son represents the fusion of all of Takuya
Kuroda’s influences as a musician, and a skilled one at that.
This album should be required listening for anyone with an interest
in jazz, funk, afrobeat, hip-hop, or any combination of the above. This
is a solid major-label debut that proves Kuroda’s rightful place is in
the spotlight. -David La Rosa