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Trumpeter and vocalist Takuya Kuroda’s sixth release deviates from his norm of live-in-the-studio tracking by increasing the use of studio effects. Loops, overdubs, sampling and beats combine with the input of guest musicians —periodically invited into the studio — to cohesively engender music that grooves to pop yet satisfies jazz yearnings. The resulting nine tracks are denser than Kuroda’s regular hip-hop/bop hybrids (e.g., 2014’s Rising Son on Blue Note). But his jazz sensibilities, through composing, arranging and shoot-from-the-hip improvisations, are the focus of every cut, including a number of slow jams.Utilizing as many as three horns — including trombonist-vocalist Corey King and tenor saxophonist Tomoaki Baba — Kuroda’s edgy melody lines come straight out of muscular 1960s hard bop. Half the tunes feature vocals that blend equally with the horns, keys, bass, percussion and electronica. The most vocal-oriented song is an enjoyable cover of the Ohio Players funk ballad “Sweet Sticky Thing,” featuring singer Alina Engibaryan. Even here, Kuroda interjects jazzy staccato horn backgrounds, then solos expressively and at length.
Herbie Hancock’s melodious “Tell Me a Bedtime Story” is performed with taste and finesse. Following the spry intro, featuring Takeshi Ohbayashi on what may or may not be an acoustic piano, Kuroda’s trumpet takes up the relaxed melody, soloing in singing fashion. The seven Kuroda originals tend to be highly textured with multiple layers of sound jelling over pulsating rhythms. The instrumental “Moody” is exemplary, with its notey wah-wah horn melody over thick electronica. In some ways, Kuroda’s concept is reminiscent of The Brecker Brothers Band — bebop lines over dense rhythmic backing, conjuring a balanced blend of jazz and commercial music via a complex, schooled mindset. And, of course, the improvised solos. Kuroda’s ability to solo intelligently and emotionally over a harmonically static one-chord vamp is impressive, a key to this project’s overall success. — James Rozzi