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Friday, Feb. 2, 2007
Banda Caliente Grande
Tokyo is home to the largest concentration of big bands of any city in the world. Every night of the year, student, amateur and pro bands are digging into music charts someplace in the city.
However, the last two weeks of February offer the best chance to catch the cream of the big-band world at the annual Someday Big Band Festival. Over the two weeks, everything from Latin to funk to vintage Ellington graces the stage -- something to suit, and expand, everyone's tastes.
For the past 25 years, the jazz club Someday has showcased top-tier musicians in groups of 16 or more. The club regularly features big bands around once a week, but for the festival, they always play to full houses. Most nights, musicians have to turn sidewise just to get up to the stage.
Few jazz clubs in Tokyo can accommodate five saxes, four trombones, four trumpets, piano, bass and drums -- not to mention the occasional singer and guest soloist -- but Someday's master, Mori, a former engineer, has the space and acoustics down to perfection. Subtle as the sound system is, the impact of all the brass still hits you square in the chest.
Each night features one band. First up (Feb. 15) is the Banda Caliente Grande, a Latin ensemble that gets dance lovers moving between the tables. Their hot soloing and intricate rhythms, mixed up with a little funk and comedy, are always a treat. On Feb. 16, Mike Price, who played with the famed Stan Kenton and Buddy Rich big bands, among others, helps make the connection to jazz's big-band past. His crisp arrangements of rare gems and originals swing hard and tight.
The Tokyo Leaders Big Band (whose members all lead their own bands) has now expanded to two ensembles. Their style of taking turns leading the band still leaves plenty of room for intense soloing. The give and take of their solos (Feb. 17 and 28) is always an especially rewarding and dynamic competition.
The cool, sophisticated style of Big Band Express (Feb. 20) and One Nite Jazz Orchestra (Feb. 24) is balanced by the contemporary, electric sound of Tetsuya Tanaka (Feb. 27) and Yasushi Haketa (Feb. 23). These two trumpeters and band leaders, who both have a bit of Maynard Ferguson to them, hit those searing notes that can shatter glass. Band leader Yoshinobu Inagaki (Feb. 26) is one of the best big-band drummers in town. His muscular style drives the first-call musicians in his band to their finest performances.
The festival finds the bands set to high energy. Despite the shorter soloing time compared to smaller combos, the musicians pack in their best phrases and most creative statements. The chance to hear the depth of talent in Tokyo's jazz scene all together for two weeks straight comes around only once a year.
"Someday Big Band Festival" takes place Feb. 15-17, 20, 23, 24 and 26-28. Entry is 3,100-3,300 yen yen from 7:45 each night. Someday is a short walk from Shinbashi Station; take the Karasumori Exit straight down Karasumori Street past the third traffic light; or take the Mita Line to Uchisaiwaicho Station and walk two blocks to 1-20-9 Daigo Suga Building B1, Nishi-Shinbashi, Minato-ku. For more information, call (03) 3506-1777 or visit someday.net