Japanese-born/New York-based Yoshiaki Masuo is a professional and accomplished guitarist. He is not a particularly accomplished vocalist, but still chooses to sing on six of Life is Good's eleven tracks. Therein lies the potential pitfall of a self-produced album such as this. There's nobody behind the controls to suggest to Masuo that it might be better to play to his strengths and try to minimize his weaknesses.
The recording quality is not first rate with a sound that comes across as thin at times, with instruments appearing tinny and the vocals washed out. This is somewhat surprising as Masuo is no stranger to the studio, being a veteran musician in bands with artists including saxophonists Sadao Watanabe and Sonny Rollins, and drummer Elvin Jones.
It's one thing to take on Lennon and McCartney's "Blackbird," with Masuo's limited vocal range just adequate enough to clear the hurdle. But it's a mistake to attempt a strutting "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" from The Rolling Stones. Masuo simply lacks the edgy attitude to cover such an established rock n' roll standard with convincing credibility.
Life Is Good works best when Masuo is on guitar, with able assistance from featured guests Larry Goldings (organ) and Lenny White (drums). The trio has history, as they first performed together on Masuo's Are You Happy Now (Omagatoki, 1988). That familiarity serves them well on the original "On Greene Street" and Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica."
Ultimately, how Life Is Good plays out is that the original selections work better than the covers, the instrumentals better than the vocal tracks and the smaller band settings better than the larger ensembles.
This is an inconsistent album due to the fact that Masuo's vocal skills don't measure up to his instrumental abilities and some choices in material seem curious. A fixture on the Japan jazz scene, his success in the U.S. however may lie in trimming back his singing, enlisting an outside producer and placing greater emphasis on his savvy guitar playing.
Track Listing: Life is Good; Wet Dog; Run Away (Winter Santa); The Tree; Yoh; On Greene Street; Pannonica; Blackbird; (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction; Another Christmas Song; Gondola no Uta (The Gondola Song).
Personnel: Yoshiaki Masuo: guitars, vocals, keyboard, percussion; Noriatsu Naraoka: bass; Tony Clinton Jr.: drums; Shirley Masuo: background vocals, percussion; Larry Goldings: organ (2-10) ; Lenny White: drums (2, 5-10); Kip Reed: electric bass; Kazuo Yoshida: drums, percussion; Steve Sacks: alto flute, string arrangement; The 2 Lips: background vocals; Bill Mays: piano (4); Yoshio "Chin" Suzuki: bass; T.M. Stevens: electric bass (5, 9); Nathanial Townsley: drums (5); Ted Nash: flutes (5); Marcus Printup: flugelhorn (5); Mark Soskin: keyboard (5); Sali Oguri: background vocals (5); Gayle Oshiro: background vocals (5).
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.