Certain things happen on stage in front of an audience that can’t be captured in a studio. This maxim is particularly true in the case of jazz music and this disc makes the fact abundantly clear. “Joe Henderson in Japan,” a straight forward, no-frills title that gives an indication of the artist and the place, but little more. The cover and liners are equally esoteric- the former picturing a shirtless Joe, afro in full bloom, scratching his jowl in cross-legged contemplation, the latter a brief pair of paragraphs recounting the particulars of the date. But as is the case with so much music the non-musical trappings that accompany the album really have no bearing on the sounds unleashed when the laser hits the platter. Slip this disc into your player, strap yourself in and prepare to be blown away.
Henderson’s opening improvisation on the all too familiar “Round Midnight” is alone worth the cash outlay to get your hands on this piece of history. A fountain of raspingly rendered lines gurgle from his tenor’s bell before the rhythm section chimes in and a brisker pace is clocked. Henderson’s Japanese sidemen are largely unexceptional, but they remain unobtrusive and supportive enough to push him toward heights he rarely reached before or has since. Hino’s hyperbolic drums are particularly effective in this capacity and he attacks his skins with dithyrambic vigor. Ichikawa’s electric keys, though a dubious sign of the times, offer a strangely atmospheric underpinning to the ensemble sound. Inaba’s bass is the weakest link, his playing often resorting to blunt rhythmic slabs rather than intricately crafted patterns. Henderson remains the catalyst and his hard-charging tenor plows past his partners aiming for ionospheric altitudes. He was and is a player who always seemed able to reconcile ‘outside’ leanings with a complete command of ‘inside’ techniques and traditions and this talent is on abundant display throughout the four performances.
Two Blue Note era compositions, “Blue Bossa” and the humorously retitled and reworked “Out n’ In” are sandwiched between an improvised blues (named after the venue) and the aforementioned standard and Henderson raises the roof on all of them. All of the pieces are impressive workouts but “Junk Blues” is perhaps the most thrilling in terms of execution. During the unruly improvisation Henderson churns out an amazing fusillade of melodic variations as the rhythm section nips ardently at his heels. That night in Tokyo the saxophonist tapped into something transcendental and all the fire and passion transmits directly to this recording.
Tracks:‘Round Midnight/ Out n’ In/ Blue Bossa/ Junk Blues.
Players:Joe Henderson- tenor saxophone; Hideo Ichikawa- electric piano; Kunimitsu Inaba- bass; Motohiko Hino- drums.
Recorded: August 4, 1971, Tokyo, Japan.