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There's been a lot of debate recently about authenticity in music, sparked in part by an interesting article in The New York Times about alternative country artist Gillian Welch. An LA native, Welch sings authentic-sounding Appalachian folk tunes in the first person. Some critics are upset that this former Valley Girl has the gall to assume the persona of a poor mountain girl in her music. For what it's worth, I think a singer has just as much right to create a first-person fictional account as any novelist.
Though I admire authenticity, many forms of indigenous music borrow from other cultures. To me there's no reason why African-Americans can't play cry-in-your-beer country, Arabs can't play emotion-drenched soul, Latinos can't sing and feel the blues, and fat middle-aged white dudes like yours truly can't rock out as enthusiastically if not energetically - as any young'un. I feel that any talented and well-trained musician who has sufficient respect for traditions can be effective in any genre, including jazz. The Nettai Tropical Big Band confirms my belief in the cross-cultural. This is a lively, swingin' collection of Latin jazz played by an all-Japanese big band.
Led by percussionist Carlos Kanno, the former leader of the Japanese salsa ensemble Orchestra De La Luz, Nettai is notable for its unique four-piece percussion section. The band also consists of four trumpets, three trombones, four saxophones, drums, piano, and bass. Nettai’s 18 musicians include some of Japan's finest jazz players, and they deliver an enthusiastic, diversified set that includes mambo and funk covers and a couple of originals. It's a nicely arranged set that has a lot of crossover appeal while remaining faithful to Latin-jazz traditions.
Highlights include a rhythmic and respectful version of Mario Bauza's "Mambo Inn," a serpentine arrangement of Wayne Shorter's "Palladium," a funky take on Tower of Power's "Squib Cakes," and the CD's high point, a danceable "Mambo Medley" that incorporates two mambo classics by Perez Prado, "El Cumanchero," and the pop tune "Tequila," which Nettai humorously titles "Tequira." This medley might seem tacky to some, but I love it.
Live in Yokahoma, Japan is an explosive, brassy release that should appeal to even the most casual fan of Latin-influenced jazz. The fact that it comes from Japan shouldn't matter a lick.