Kyoto Jazz Massive – Spirit of the Sun – 3.5/5
Formed by two brothers in the mid-80s, they began showing their eclectic style of music crossover by DJ-ing at the now renowned club “The Room” in the new bastion for all things wacky and weird, the Shibuya district in Tokyo (which is unsurprisingly where the 'Shibuya-Kei' movement began, combining jazz with pop). Yet despite their early beginnings, and even proving pivotal to pioneering the style of music now played at their local club on a near-daily basis, it wasn't until the late 90s that this style reached the hands of busy UK executives and the rapid decision to get them to record an album, the result of which is on review now and still the only full-length release to their name.
If anyone remembers my remarks regarding the nu-jazz duo Sidsel and Bugge I pointed out the natural shunning of their brand of jazz, mixing in electronica influences to revive the genre, but this discovery goes well beyond mere 'influences' right to the other side of the spectrum. This feels more akin to house music (as a best guess – it really isn't my area of expertise) slapped with some old fashioned jazz showmanship; replacing that monotone drum beat with an actual drummer and having a keyboardist and every so often a saxophone produce the tones the format requires. This all results in a release that genuinely feels like a 'best of both' situation, finding a balance between the repetitive electronica and the unnecessarily complex and egotistical jazz that is often remembered to create something original if not altogether unfamiliar.
Whilst it all manages to display a decent level of funk in the bass lines, shadowed by the smooth grooves much of the release can neatly be sliced into two styles; that with guest vocalists and that without. With recording occurring in the western world, it makes a nice unexpected twist to feature two British female soul vocalists – Vanessa Freeman and Maiya James – who do justice to the backing provided, which has naturally been toned down somewhat in order to allow them to carry the focus. Whilst not alone on the bill of guest vocalists, their powerful opening succeeds in diminishing the attention from the vocalists that follow, yet provide a gentle transition into their world.
Much in a similar manner to the vocally orientated tracks, the instrumental performances feel polarised; the precision performances from the keyboards, drums to drool over and that deeply felt funk bass lines that conjure images of a Herbie Hancock's “Chameleon” all over again prove just how powerful the style can be in the right hands, but the somewhat 'smoother' rides that emerge, slower and more reliant on more basic loops simply fall into the trap of monotony. This makes for a release that is somewhat depressing to mark as when it all comes together the result is nothing but brilliance, but sadly for too long things are allowed to wither into mediocrity.
Highlights: The Brightness of these Days, Mind Expansions, Eclipse, Substream