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Thursday, Sep. 27, 2012
Garnett to hit Tokyo Crossover/Jazz Festival
Kyoto Jazz Massive takes club to stage
By SEAN SMITH
Special to The Japan Times
Tucked away in a basement not far from Shibuya Station is a club that has been hailed as the best small club in Tokyo by popular DJ Gilles Peterson.
That club is The Room, run by Shuya Okino, and this year it's celebrating its 20th anniversary. It also remains as influential as ever on Tokyo's club scene, acting as a focal point for a number of the city's musicians and DJs.
In addition to running the club, owner Okino is known for his solo work as an artist, and as one half of DJ/producer unit Kyoto Jazz Massive (the other half being his brother, Yoshihiro). Okino says it was these experiences that led to him setting up the Tokyo Crossover/Jazz Festival (TCJF).
"Ten years ago I went to Zagreb's Future Jazz Festival with Gilles Peterson, Phil Asher, Two Banks Of Four, Azymuth and Zero db," Okino recalls. "I wondered why Japan didn't have that kind of event. So I thought I should be the one to start a festival here that focused on dance jazz and jazz-oriented dance music."
The Zagreb festival, organized by Croatian DJ Eddy Ramich (of Eddy meets Yannah fame), featured live acts and DJs and brought together in one event a wide range of music styles, from house and electronica to so-called nu jazz and classic jazz. The Future Jazz Festival was short-lived, but Ramich is still an influential figure and the festival was important in establishing Zagreb on Europe's musical map.
Okino's TCJF has survived the test of time, however, and over its nine-year history it has developed and evolved.
"The first TCJF was a four-night event held at (Tokyo clubs) JZ'Brat, The Room, Yellow and Claska," Okino recalls. "It was really difficult to coordinate everything over the four nights, so the next year I changed it to a one-night event at Yellow. I then moved it to (club) ageHa as the festival became bigger and there were more live bands appearing."
Then, after a one-year hiatus, the festival returned last year as an evening event rather than an all-nighter. "I changed my concept for TCJF," Okino says. "I wanted to have a festival that appealed more to adults who have stopped going to night clubs but still love dance music and want to see DJs and live shows."
The change of format last year also brought about a change of venue and the 2012 edition of TCJF on Sept. 29 will once again be held at The Garden Hall in Tokyo's Ebisu area.
Regular visitors to The Room will have a clear idea of the kind of music they can expect to hear at TCJF, but to the uninitiated, the name of the event may be cause for confusion.
"Crossover jazz means both crossover music (that is, jazz-oriented dance music) and danceable jazz," Okino explains. "There are so many genres of music influenced by jazz, and that's why at TCJF people can hear DJs and live acts known for playing dance jazz, funk, rare groove, hip-hop, techno, house, and so on. It's basically lots of different styles coming together."
The organizers have pulled off something of a coup this year, with Carlos Garnett appearing as the headline live act. The Panamanian-born saxophonist may not be a household name, but he is a musician of considerable pedigree, having played with Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Pharoah Sanders and Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers in the 1960s and '70s. More than just a sideman, however, Garnett also led his own band (including future stars such as Dee Dee Bridgewater and Norman Connors), releasing a series of groundbreaking albums in the '70s.
Some of his recordings from that era have been big tunes on the club-jazz scene for more than 20 years, with some contemporary artists from around the world releasing covers of Garnett's tunes.
The story behind how TCJF managed to secure the services of Garnett for this year's event highlights how informal networking can bring about good results within the music industry, particularly for independent artists.
"Me and my brother Yoshi, as Kyoto Jazz Massive, made a cover version of Garnett's 'Mystery Of Ages' with Bembe Segue on vocals about four years ago," Okino explains. "I just gave the demo version to a small number of DJs with the message, 'Please don't copy.'
"Then about a year later when I went to Toronto, my friend DJ Moonstarr gave me his re-edit of 'Mystery Of Ages'! Apparently he didn't know it was our version, although he knew the vocal was Bembe. He'd got the demo from somebody with my message. He loved it and wanted to make a re-edit, then he thought I would like his version (not knowing it was my track), so it kind of came round full circle."
"When Moonstarr asked me if it was possible to release his re-edit from his own label I agreed, and we finally tracked Carlos down."
Garnett picks up the story, "I was contacted by Kyoto Jazz Massive, who told me they like my music, and they requested permission to release a version of one of my songs, 'Mystery of Ages,' to raise funds for tsunami victims." The single was released at the end of 2011.
Kyoto Jazz Massive are not the only contemporary artists to have covered Garnett tunes, and the saxophonist appreciates the continued interest in his music and is looking forward to playing at TCJF. "It's wonderful," he says, "and I'm really grateful."
Singing with Garnett and his band at the festival will be Bembe Segue, one the top vocalists from London's club-jazz scene. Segue is no stranger to Japan, having sung with acts such as Sleep Walker and Masa Sextet, and her appearance at TCJF will be something of a reunion.
The other live act at the event will be Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro, one of Japan's most popular funk bands. The sextet proved popular with a capacity crowd on the Orange Court stage at this year's Fuji Rock Festival.
DJs appearing at TCJF will include Jurgen von Knoblauch from German collective Jazzanova, who is guaranteed to play an eclectic set of dance sounds; and DJ Kawasaki with a house-disco set featuring a live vocal appearance from N'Dea Davenport of Brand New Heavies fame.
Beyond that there will be sets from DJ Mitsu The Beats, Kaoru Inoue (aka Chari Chari) and Kyoto Jazz Massive as well as a host of others.
All in all it adds up to plenty of room to enjoy a wide variety of sounds on the more soulful side of the Tokyo club scene.
Tokyo Crossover/Jazz Festival takes place at The Garden Hall in Ebisu, Tokyo, on Sept. 29 (6 p.m. start; ¥4,500 (standing) and ¥5,500 (seated) in advance, ¥5,000 at the door;  5424-0647). For more details, visit www.tokyocrossoverjazzfestival.jp .