Guitarist/composer Nobuki Takamen is active on the New York scene, but has returned to his native Japan for an annual tour for many years. His previous album Live In Japan (Self Produced, 2016) documented live performances of his trio with bassist Toshiyuki Tanahashi and drummer Naoki Aikawa, long-time musical collaborators for more than a decade. The process was reversed for this album: first the trio went on tour, playing almost every night for over a month, then they went into a Tokyo recording studio (tracked onto a 16-track analog tape recorder).
So while the session lacks the atmosphere of a live performance, it demonstrates the power and grace of an experienced group with considerable recent performance experience. The up-tempo opener, "The Circle Game," immediately re-establishes the trio's bebop bona fides (not to be confused with the Joni Mitchell songall of the tunes here are Takamen originals). "Helsingin taivas (Helsinki Sky)" takes things back to ballad tempo, while "3AM" adopts a rock rhythm for a decidedly energetic feel, despite the late hour.
"Wonderful Days" is a lyrical, folk song-like piece. On Live In Japan it was played as a guitar solo, but here the arrangement is fleshed out with light percussion and an arco bass part. "A-Tico-Ta" is a Latin jazz tune, with a calypso feel reminiscent of saxophonist Sonny Rollins' signature song "St. Thomas." It benefits from the additional percussionwhich is featured in duet with the bassincluding a playful siren whistle. "Blues Alberta" goes deep into jazz blues (with another fine bass solo, this time played pizzicato).
The rhythmic "Sjećanja za Pamćenje (Memories to Remember)" is the other reprise from the live albumit has a catchy Latin feel, despite having been inspired by a European tour. The leader takes an extended unaccompanied solo, before the rhythm section comes back in. "25" introduces a New Orleans second-line beat (with a hint of Bo Diddley), further demonstrating the versatility of the band. As the title implies, the closer, "Piece for Peace," has a solemn, almost hymn-like quality. A beautiful calm space to cap off a varied jazz guitar program.
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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