Album Reviews

Jazztronic – Samurai

(Pantone) UK release date: 11 April 2005

Jazztronik is the Japanese composer, musician and all round studio virtuoso Ryota Nazaki, and he has a vivid imagination far outreaching his country of origin, including a small army of musicians in his vision.

The best compliment that you can pay Samurai is that even at a hefty 80 minutes it rarely threatens to outstay its welcome. This is down to the fresh, wide-eyed stance of the music and the willingness of its author to embrace new directions. You only have to look at the list of DJs playing his music to illustrate this – Gilles Peterson heads an eclectic mix that also includes Louie Vega, Derrick May and Jazzy Jeff. Nazaki studied classical music and film soundtrack composition at university, and he puts both those disciplines to good use here.

Muddy Muddy doesn’t give a full clue as to what’s in store, full piano chords given extra credence by electric cello and a soothing him from the assembled chorus. It makes an effective prelude to the up tempo tracks, with Phoenix in particular standing out as an unusual fusion of trance and a broken beat jazz style. I use ‘trance’ in the loosest sense, as the opening keyboard loop is firmly rooted in a Philip Glass style of minimalism, but once the thickly textured piano riff joins to a broken beat, the effect is strangely exhilarating.

This is the only explicitly instrumental track on the album, as elsewhere we get to enjoy the silky smooth vocals of Yurai, whether it be on the deep house/samba fusion of Nana or the chant-like Froro, with Nazaki again veering towards trance in his choice of background loop.

A fondness for French piano music emerges in The Piano, a Ravelian loop hypnotically suspended over lighter beats. This works well in the aftermath of Arabesque, an extremely busy track where the texture gets overplayed somewhat towards the end.

Kazuhiro Takeda’s saxophone makes several lasting contributions to this record, most notably punching out the riff to Froro, but it’s Nazaki’s piano that holds centre stage, punching out chords with considerable athleticism which could be extremely tricky in a live environment. It’s credit to the pianist that he avoids the programmer’s curse of synthetic performance in the studio version.

The busy integration of styles, principally Brazilian but taking in also deep house, jazz and Latin, makes for an extremely engaging set of tracks that will enchant, soothe and inspire in equal measure.

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