Joe Downard: Seven Japanese Tales

Chris May By

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Joe Downard: Seven Japanese Tales
Up-and-coming London bassist Joe Downard's debut album is an ambitious affair which winningly blends intricate soundscapes created by retro-modern analog synthesisers with the two-horns-and-a-rhythm-section acoustic jazz tradition. Downard's sextet includes five other rising stars of the London scene, prominent among them trumpeter James Copus, tenor saxophonist Alex Hitchcock (whose self-titled album debut with his band AuB is on Edition) and drummer Felix Ambach.

The seven-piece suite which is Seven Japanese Tales was, apparently, inspired by Japanese culture and, specifically, by Downard's discovery of Jun'ichirō Tanizaki's identically-titled book of short stories. But the album is free of orientalism. There is nothing Japanese in the music, unless you factor in the unhurried, ritual-like precision with which each of the seven tunes unfolds and, if you listen hard, samples of field recordings Downard made on a recent trip to Japan. He cites Radiohead and Ambrose Akinmusire among his influences.

Downard's writing carries echoes of Wayne Shorter's harmolodic template. Despite the presence of Rupert Cox' synths, these evoke not so much Shorter's years with Weather Report as his earlier spells with Blue Note and with pre-electric Miles Davis. "Terror," for instance, the first single pulled from Seven Japanese Tales, strongly suggests Shorter's "Masqualero," a standout track on Davis' Sorcerer (Columbia, 1967). Quiz show enthusiasts may like to be reminded that the tune was revisited by Shorter on the Blue Note All Stars' 2018 album Our Point Of View with Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet. For a bonus point, remember too that Shorter was married to Teruko Nakagami in the early 1960s. (Enough spurious Japanese connections already).

Seven Japanese Tales was recorded more or less "live" in a single day. Downard then spent time finessing the music with soundscapes and digital/analog sound design, in collaboration with Todd Speakman, a fellow member of the London electronic collective LONO. It all fits together snugly.

Track Listing

A Portrait of Shunkin; Terror; The Bridge Of Dreams; The Tattooer; Aguri; The Thief; A Blind Man’s Tale.


Joe Downard: bass, acoustic; Alex Hitchcock: saxophone; James Copus: flugelhorn; Will Barry: piano; Rupert Cox: synthesizer; Felix Ambach: drums.

Album information

Title: Seven Japanese Tales | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Ubuntu Music

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