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In the early '90s, drummer Kozo Suganuma formed half of the rhythm section of the legendary Japanese fusion trio Fragile. His eponymous solo CD on the Jewel Sound label features eight tracks of modern and traditional fusion, including one Coltrane standard and four tracks written by Fragile guitarist Koichi Yabori.
Kozo opens with the snappy fusion jam "Double Black Feather." The pace slows with the drum solo track "Brush Fire," although this exposition is kept tastefully short at under two minutes. The record picks back up with "Tales of the Temple" and the half-time groove of "Mistic Island." After the ballad "Cloudiness" and the Coltrane standard "Moment's Notice," the record closes with the snappy, Caribbean-influenced "Beat Kids."
Fragile was often compared to '90s fusion giants Tribal Tech, and that similarity is also prominent in the sound and the songwriting on Kozo. Part of the sonic likeness may be due to Scott Kinsey, Tribal Tech's keyboardist, handling keyboard duties on the record. In addition, several of the songs composed by Fragile guitarist Yabori clone the Tribal Tech style of light guitar-based fusion almost exactly. "Tales of the Temple" has the grooving bass guitar melody that characterizes classic Gary Willis tunes. "Coriander" sounds like it's right out of the Tribal Tech live set, and it even includes Yabori playing several Scott Henderson guitar licks note for note.
One major sonic element sets Kozo aside from the Tribal Tech guitar-based fusion stylethe saxophone work of Bob Malach and Hiroyuki Yagi. The timbre of the sax adds a mellowness and a traditional jazz flavor that gives the music depth, particularly on the ballad "Cloudiness" and the Caribbean jam "Beat Kids." Suganuma was wise to include a saxophonist on the majority of the tracks on his record.
The playing by all musicians is excellent. Yabori knows when to lead the band with his skilled guitar work and when to sit back. Bassist Lincoln Goines holds down the bottom, providing snappy lead work on "Tales of the Temple" and "Moment's Notice." Kinsey lays down solid background chording and only steps into the forefront when warranted, as he does with Tribal Tech. Suganuma's drumming occasionally sounds excessively bombastic or heavy-handed, but the one place a little over-reaching play by a drummer can be excused is on his own solo record.
Fans of electric fusion and fans of Fragile should check out Kozo. This solo record offers plenty of solid fusion composing and snappy playing, with a standard and a ballad thrown in for variety.