Nobuki Takamen is, in all probability, the best jazz guitarist Japan has ever produced. Nowadays he lives in New Jersey but tours his homeland regularly. His playing is marked by good taste and sensitivity. He is a highly inventive guitarist, his runs and progressions never quite going where you expect them to go but always making perfect sense.
He doesn't overburden his playing with technique, staying accessible to a wide range of listeners. He names his influences as Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Pat Martino, George Van Eps, Jimi Hendrix andsomewhat strangelyAkira Takasaki, of the Japanese glam rock band Loudness. As usual, Takamen is accompanied on this, his seventh album, by fellow countrymen, Toshiyuki Tanahashi on bass and Naoki Aikawa, drums.
Ten of Takamen's own compositions are featured. Mostly these are in honour of the countries visited on his last European tour. One of themthe Latin-tinged "A-Tico-Ta"was named by his four-year-old daughter and features special guest Akhito Yoshikawa on percussion. It's highly attractive, light and airy, one of the best numbers on the CD.
The album opens with a fast bop piece, "The Circle Game," on which Takamen goes to town, demonstrating his fabulous technique. His solo is followed by one from Aikawa on drums, backed by Tanahashi, before the song returns to its theme. It's followed by the wistful ballad, "Helsingin Taivas," Finnish for "Helsinki Sky," conjuring up summer nights when the sun never truly sets.
"3AM" is a gentle up-tempo piece with a very catchy themeat times there is almost a country feel to it. Takamen's solo is masterly, visiting all manner of places while never completely losing touch with the melody.
"Wonderful Days" speaks for itself, the days concerned long and lazyperhaps Scandinavian? Wes Montgomery's influence is to the fore, though without recourse to the master's trademark use of octaves. "Blues Alberta" is the album's only blues, laid-back but solid, featuring some fast runs by the leader in his solo, which is followed by one from Tanahashi, interspersed with tasteful drumming by Aikawa.
Takamen's rock influences come out in "25," which is fast and (almost) flashy. "Piece For Peace" is very different, far more reverent and reminiscent of Oscar Peterson's civil rights anthem "Hymn To Freedom."
The Circle Game; Helsingin Taivas (Helsinki Sky); 3AM; Fox’s Tail; Wonderful Days; A-Tico-Ta ; Blues Alberta; Sjećanja za Pamćenje (Memories to Remember); 25; Piece for Peace.
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