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Friday, Oct. 26, 2007
The recipient of Japan's second-highest honor, The Order of the Rising Sun, two years ago, 74-year-old alto-saxophonist Sadao Watanabe has come a long way, baby, since the bearded longhair studied at Boston's Berklee College of Music in the 1960s. Watanabe has had a varied career, pounding out bebop as well as dabbling in bossa nova, pop and classical. His band's four-day stint at Billboard Live Fukuoka will showcase standards and the Brazilian-flavored originals of his latest album, "Basie's at Night," a live set released in August.
The Sadao Watanabe Group is the quintet that appeared on "Basie's at Night," plus electric-guitarist Jun Kajiwara. A frequent collaborator with foreign artists, Watanabe's group includes Senegalese percussionist N'diasse Niang.
Watanabe's versatility (he also plays soprano sax and flute) is enhanced by the talents of the five behind him. Niang's percussion playing drives samba and salsa tunes, while Kajiwara and electric-bassist Koichi Osamu add rock and funk elements. Still, Watanabe is at his best improvising bebop passages held together by pianist Akira Onozuka and drummer Masaharu Ishikawa. No other dates are scheduled for the group, although Watanabe's annual winter tour as a quartet starts Dec. 11 in his hometown of Utsunomiya in Tochigi Prefecture. The tour then heads to Nagoya (Dec. 12-14), Osaka (Dec. 15) and Tokyo (Dec. 16).
The Sadao Watanabe Group plays Billboard Live Fukuoka Nov. 7-9 (6:30 p.m., 9:30 p.m.), Nov. 10 (5:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m.); tickets ¥9,000 (tel.  715-6666).