Sonic Explorations of Japanese Jazz: Stream 8 Mixes of Japan’s Jazz Tradition Free Online

“Man,” a fel­low work­ing the check­out counter at Los Ange­les’ Amoe­ba Music once said to me, “you sure do like Japan­ese jazz.” His tone was one of faint dis­be­lief, but then, this par­tic­u­lar record-shop­ping trip hap­pened well over a decade ago. Since then the glob­al lis­ten­er­ship of Japan­ese jazz has increased enor­mous­ly, thanks to the expan­sion of audio­vi­su­al stream­ing plat­forms and the enter­pris­ing col­lec­tors and cura­tors who’ve used them to share the glo­ry of the most Amer­i­can of all art forms as mas­tered and re-inter­pret­ed by ded­i­cat­ed musi­cians in the Land of the Ris­ing Sun.

High-pro­file Japan­ese-jazz enthu­si­asts of the 2020s include the Turk­ish DJ Zag Erlat, cre­ator of the Youtube chan­nel My Ana­log Jour­nal, whose short 70s mix of the stuff we fea­tured last year here on Open Cul­tureBut it was only a mat­ter of time before the musi­cal minds at Lon­don-based online radio sta­tion NTS broad­cast the defin­i­tive Japan­ese Jazz ses­sion to the world.

Pre­vi­ous­ly, NTS have ded­i­cat­ed large blocks of air­time to projects like the his­to­ry of spir­i­tu­al jazz and a trib­ute to the favorite music of nov­el­ist Haru­ki Muraka­mi — a Japan­ese man and a jazz-lover, but one whose Amer­i­ca-inspired cul­tur­al ener­gy has­n’t been par­tic­u­lar­ly direct­ed toward jazz of the Japan­ese vari­ety.

“Japan­ese jazz” refers not to a sin­gle genre, but to a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent kinds of jazz giv­en Japan­ese expres­sion. Hence NTS’ Japan­ese Jazz Week, each of whose bilin­gual­ly announced broad­casts spe­cial­izes in a dif­fer­ent facet of the music. The first mix is ded­i­cat­ed to the late gui­tarist Ryo Kawasa­ki; the sec­ond, to tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese instru­ments like the shakuhachi, and the koto; the third, to Three Blind Mice, often described as “the Japan­ese Blue Note”; the fourth, to jazz fusion, one of the musi­cal cur­rents in Japan that gave rise to city pop in the 1980s; the fifth, to pianist Masabu­mi Kikuchi, who played with the likes of Son­ny Rollins and Miles Davis; the sixth, to modal jazz and bop from the 1960s to the 1980s; and the sev­enth, to free-impro­vis­ing sax­o­phon­ist Kaoru Abe, “a true mav­er­ick of late 70’s Japan­ese jazz.”

Japan­ese Jazz Week also includes a spe­cial on spir­i­tu­al and free jazz as played in Japan “from its ear­li­est stir­rings in the 1960s until it reached inter­na­tion­al recog­ni­tion in the 1970s.” The 70s, as the inter­na­tion­al fan con­sen­sus appears to reflect, was the gold­en age of Japan­ese jazz; as I recall, the heap of LPs I set down before that Amoe­ba clerk came most­ly from that decade. The decade’s play­ers, pro­duc­ers, labels, and con­cert venues con­tin­ue their work today, the cur­rent pan­dem­ic-relat­ed dif­fi­cul­ties of live per­for­mance aside. When the shows start and trav­el resumes again in earnest, no small num­ber of Japan­ese-jazz fans will be book­ing their tick­ets to Tokyo at once, all in search of an offline Japan­ese Jazz Week — or two or three — of their own.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A 30-Minute Intro­duc­tion to Japan­ese Jazz from the 1970s: Like Japan­ese Whisky, It’s Under­rat­ed, But Very High Qual­i­ty

Hear Enchant­i­ng Mix­es of Japan­ese Pop, Jazz, Funk, Dis­co, Soul, and R&B from the 70s and 80s

Haru­ki Muraka­mi Day: Stream Sev­en Hours of Mix­es Col­lect­ing All the Jazz, Clas­si­cal & Clas­sic Amer­i­can Pop Music from His Nov­els

The His­to­ry of Spir­i­tu­al Jazz: Hear a Tran­scen­dent 12-Hour Mix Fea­tur­ing John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Her­bie Han­cock & More

Hear a 9‑Hour Trib­ute to John Peel: A Col­lec­tion of His Best “Peel Ses­sions”

Hear a Six-Hour Mix Tape of Hunter S. Thompson’s Favorite Music & the Songs Name-Checked in His Gonzo Jour­nal­ism

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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