By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagata-ken, 2008-10) for JQ magazine. A former head of the JETAA Philadelphia Sub-Chapter, Rashaad is a graduate of Leeds Beckett University with a master’s degree in responsible tourism management. For more on his life abroad and enthusiasm for taiko drumming, visit his blog at www.gettingpounded.wordpress.com.
“J-pop meets jazz.” What does that really mean?
These words appear on the J-MUSIC Ensemble’s official website, the J-MUSIC Ensemble being a New York-based jazz-influenced instrumental band that mixes various genres. The group’s Grammy-nominated founder Patrick Bartley once told me, “We’re not just playing jazz songs; we’re taking the jazz mentality.”
So what do they serve up with Time to Play, their full-length recording debut? Befitting the group’s name, Time to Play features eight covers of songs by popular Japanese musical acts (including Hikaru Utada’s “Simple and Clean”) executed in a cohesive mix of jazz, funk, rock and pop. Sure enough, the album’s first track (and Perfume cover) “Game” features a significant rock influence with a heavy dose of bass and guitar. The album closes with another substantial touch of rock as the Yoko Kanno cover “The Real Folk Blues” also features a significant helping of the two above-mentioned instruments (but oddly enough, the song doesn’t sound in any way like a folk or blues tune).
It’s quite appropriate that Time to Play finishes with a cover of a song featured in the anime series Cowboy Bebop. Bartley once mentioned to me that video game scores have been a major influence on his music and sure enough, a couple of other songs—“Patchwork Eden” and “Macaroni”—feature keyboard-generated sounds that wouldn’t sound out of place in video games.
Having seen the J-MUSIC Ensemble perform live earlier this year, my expectation of Time to Play is that the album would feature largely untempo songs. That was largely the case but a couple of tunes—the above-mentioned “Macaroni” and “Marie’s World”—seem relatively mellow and the latter piece reveals the album’s smooth jazz feel.
Bartley was correct when he said the J-MUSIC Ensemble doesn’t play jazz songs. Each of the tunes on Time to Play mixes a cool variety of sounds and instruments that create an album that’s easy to return to. At first listen, there doesn’t seem to be a standout track in Time to Play, especially for those unfamiliar with the original version of its songs, but that doesn’t detract from the album at all. Time to Play is a well-produced collection of covers that delights in mixing together several genres.