Kyoto Jazz Massive have gone through various incarnations since they first started throwing parties back in the 1990s. Currently a quintet, brothers Shuya and Yoshihiro Okino still remain the outfit`s passionate driving force. Folks in the UK might also be aware of the siblings through their Especial imprint, and recognize its distinctive artwork. Yoshihiro currently runs the highly respected Osaka-based record store of the same name. The label was super collectable in the early 2000s. I remember that in London copies could only really be found in that treasure trove of all things house – in a basement on Berwick Street – Vinyl Junkies. The pairs own releases graced western institutions such as Germany`s Compost Records and Yellow Productions in France. Shuya has since become synonymous with his club, The Room. The venue is a legendary part of Shibuya`s nightlife. I had the pleasure of being introduced to him, in the adjoining coffee shop, a couple of weeks back.
Now the Tokyo jazz scene has always fascinated me. From the stories I’ve heard, via the friends that I’ve made in the city, its heyday sounded pretty fucking wild, and the eclecticism of the music spun, the closest that Japan ever came to having something equivalent to “Balearic”. The conversation with Shuya certainly didn’t disappoint. From fanboy tales of him, in his teens, trying to ID tunes from roughshod recordings of Gilles Peterson at Talkin` Loud, at Dingwalls (it was Gilles who later christened them KJM), to debauched European tours with Mondo Grosso. Taking in spiraling recording costs, the crazy intercontinental, transatlantic lengths that they went to, getting players and sessions just right, to scoring a huge hit last year, with the track, Still In Love. A song he recorded in 2011 with Baltimore vocalist, Navasha Daya, that`s now been licensed, globally, by Glitterbox (the OG Especial 12 goes for 300 quid). Only now, a decade later, recouping those aforementioned studio costs. Money that they’ve ploughed straight into issuing the album, Message From A New Dawn.
Recorded three years ago, again at great, mind-boggling, strictly-for-the-love, expense, but only completed in December, a vinyl version is just about to land in shops. It goes without saying that it`s an amazingly accomplished, polished production. Poaching musicians from homegrown groups, such as A Hundred Birds, Soil & Pimp Sessions, Root Soul, Cro-Magnon, Coastlines, and with Tabu Zombie blowing like Donald Byrd. The LP also features vocals from jazz / house veteran, Vanessa Freeman, and a guest appearance from vibraphone virtuoso, Roy Ayers. This collective colliding on compositions that fuse fragments from dance music’s multifaceted history. Creating conga`d, timbale`d, rhythms reminiscent of Salsoul. Disco, by way of David Mancuso`s Loft classics – Brit-funk stuff by the likes of Atmosfear and Powerline. In doing so drawing parallels with Gilles and Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick`s brilliant STR4TA project. Delivering drum & bass-inspired broken beats, built on Brazilian carnival batucada, and Afro-Cuban rumba, where basses are boldly slapped, and keys come in cool electric runs, gentle Fender Rhodes figures, and Mandre-esque solar flights. Arp and Moog-like acrobatics. Big, uplifting, Detroit house-like chords. Supplementing this serious syncopation with swooning, swinging, cinematic strings. A violin supplying classical pizzicato patterns. Dovetailing on dramatic, often urgent, songs of positivity, concerned wth unity, that give way to superlative solos in their second halves. Straddling jazz, and all of its developments, future and past.
On the operatic, optimistic, Get It Together, they could be Sun Ra`s Arkestra orbiting, searching, the spaceways, while the more grounded This Feeling exudes a Brand New Heavies vibe. Throughout the whole shebang, the entire LP, you can hear the ensemble’s sheer joy at playing, performing. You really get the message that these are their moments of true transcendence, when they are finally untethered, unshackled, and free.
Kyoto Jazz Massive`s Message From A New Dawn is available, digitally, on Bandcamp – where you can also check out some of the band`s back catalogue. The vinyl is due on April 13th. While we’re at I recommend you also have a listen to The Room`s Sunday radio broadcasts on Tokyo`s Inter FM.