There's certainly no shortage of self-confidence in a musician who decides to subtitle an album New Kind of Jazz, as does Hiroaki Honshuku on the third release by his jazz fusion band Racha Fora. The group does possess a distinctive sound, to be sure, in large part due to its instrumentation: with Honshuku the dominant presence on flute, piccolo or EWI, he's joined by violinist Rika Ikeda and electric guitarist Andre Vasconcelos, who provides a lot of the rhythmic thrust behind the group's music, particularly essential given that there isn't a conventional drummer or bassist on the album. Instead, the principal rhythm duties are shared by cajon players Harvey Wirht and Sebastian Chiriboga, who alternate on the album's ten cuts. Without a traditional rhythm section, a special premium is placed on the lead instrumentalists to carry the weight of the music. It's a brave choice to go this route, and we can credit Honshuku's intrepid spirit in doing so.
Aside from the album's title track, composed by Honshuku, the remainder of the album consists mostly of standards, so the album stands or falls on the group's ability to bring a fresh perspective to some well-worn classics. One can definitely say it's a fusion-based exploration, anchored by Vasconcelos, whose heavy rock inflections are especially prominent on Miles Davis's "Nardis," which opens the record with an acerbic blast. It's a unique interpretation, although somewhat over-the-top in purging the song of much of its subtle beauty; Vasconcelos's aggressive riffs don't leave much room for nuance. That said, the musicianship on this and other tracks is generally very good, with some nice synergy between Honshuku and Ikeda and energetic soloing by all three of the leading musicians. The most successful cuts tend to be the ones that are a bit more straightforward in their creative approach: the dialogue between Honshuku and Vasconcelos on "All the Things You Are," with Vasconcelos in a more restrained mode, is quite effectivealthough he does have a hard time maintaining that steadied calm, as by the end of the track he's once again rocking out. Perhaps the most compelling track on the album is Honshuku's own "Happy Fire," which conveys an updated Brazilian sound that is quite infectious.
Given the band's potential with Latin-inspired music (according to the liner notes, "Racha Fora" comes from a South Brazilian slang term for "branching out," which the band sees as reflecting its Brazil-Japan-America trajectory), it is surprising that the music isn't more rhythmically interesting. Honshuku's cajon players are the main disappointment in this regard, as there really isn't enough variety in their technique to give the music more spice. On pieces like "In a Sentimental Mood" and "Summertime" Wirht uses a monotonous, uncomplicated rock beat that tends to leave the music feeling emotionally arid. One would love to hear more of the kind of Latin flavoring found in "Estamos Ai," where the group gets a much more fluid and appealing sound. It also brings out the more melodic side of Honshuku and Vasconcelos to fine effect, and Wirht is also especially energized on this cut.
Although not without a few problems in execution, Honshuku's Racha Fora is willing to take some chances, and fans of fusion-inspired jazz may indeed find some new things they've yet to experience on Happy Fire.
Nardis; All the Things You Are; Happy Fire; In a Sentimental Mood; Estamos
Ai; Summertime; Someday My Prince Will Come; Blues in the Closet;
Playground; Nem Um Talvez; A Foggy Day.
Hiroaki Honshuku: flute, piccolo, EWI; Rika Ikeda: violin; Andre Vasconcelos:
guitar; Sebastian “C-bass” Chiriboga; cajon (1, 3, 9); Harvey Wirht: cajon (2, 4,
5, 6, 7, 8, 10); Yuka Kido: mint can (3).
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