Yesterday, I ventured out into the town my college is in with a recent friend I’ve made. We saw the local record store, a temporary art gallery, a rich community’s private wooded park, and got lost in some suburban neighbourhood. We ended up having to hop a short fence and walk through someone’s yard to get back to a road after reaching a dead end. At some point along this adventure, the topic of willow trees came up. A potentially odd conversation but a conversation none the less. Chatting, as you do, I expressed my desire to her to sit under one someday- I know it’s cliche but just seems like one of those things to get done in life. As it happened, in one of the neighbourhoods along our way back to campus, she spotted a willow tree. Had it not been in someone’s yard, I probably would’ve gone over and lived out my short term day dream. At this time, unknowingly, the bassline from the track “Willow Weep for Me” got stuck in my mind. Sounds a bit unbelievable but I imagined myself sitting under that willow grooving to a melody that came to be that very song.
At the time I didn’t realise where that bassline had come from. Clearly, my brain subconsciously made the connection between the tree in front of me and the decades old recording with a title referencing its species. Somehow, somewhere, I must’ve heard this track before, just enough to have it tip-toe along my subconscious and echo in my head. Tonight, when I sat down to finally do some reading for a class I’d procrastinated over until the night before, I began to noodle through some instrumental albums I could listen to. After Endless Summer, this is the second album I’m currently listening to whilst reading the assigned slave narrative. Once this fourth track came on and the bass started moving, I had a moment of realisation: this is what’s been stuck in my head for the past day and a half.
Two months on it feels like a lifetime since I first set my ears on this album. Like seemingly many other people, this gem magically showed up on my YouTube recommendation page enough times to persuade my curiosity to get the better of me. When I found out it was a Japanese jazz album from the 70s, I immediately went to find a download. I don’t know if this was just from my eagerness to consume as much Japanese culture as possible before I would begin to learn the language next term at school, but I’m glad I did it. I’ve listened to it around a dozen times since, and gotten more and more out of it each time.
I won’t pretend to be very well versed in jazz. Miles Davis is about as far as I’ve delved on the listening side of things, and only his non fusion albums like Birth of the Cool, Kind of Blue, and Nefertiti. I was in a traditional jazz class my first semester of college as a tenor sax player, but I still haven’t filled in the gaps between those early regional styles and the stuff Davis was doing in the 50s and 60s. Despite that, I hear a lot of Davis influence in what Fukui and his collaborators are creating on this album. It’s probably just the modal jazz aspect of it, but seeing as I love Davis, it was practically destined for me to love this album.
But even beyond blind Davis copycat adoration, there are plenty of parts of this album that I love. Going into anything compositionally would be a bit silly because I believe these were just reinterpretations of already existing pieces. That said, things like that bassline in “Willow Weep For Me” or the chorus-like piano lines before the tempo change in centrepiece “Early Summer” are masterful. The trio pull off these tracks so smoothly that someone who didn’t know better would think they’d composed each one themselves. They seem to know the songs inside and out. That said, it’s not a machine-like recording devoid of feeling either. There are mistakes (or flubs, I guess) that reveal themselves once you’ve familiarised yourself with the album, yet they’re never blatant enough to be immediately distracting. Fukui’s embellishments that occur as a few of the pieces wind down accomplish the same thing- a sprinkling of seasoning to a classic.
There’s a bass solo in “Autumn Leaves” that glides along so nicely for being in the upper range of the instrument. When it played tonight, it made me wish I could play upright bass solely for the ability to bust out a solo like it. That and “Early Summer,” not to mention the rest of the album, remind me of the autumn days of sitting in my high school’s cafeteria, and I can’t quite tell why. I was never much into jazz in high school. I knew enough to know that the watered down arrangements our band director gave us in “jazz band” hardly qualified sometimes, especially when they reduced us to a glorified pep band. Even now, like I said previously, I’m not heavily into jazz like I wish I was. It’s just something about the mood this album gives off that makes me wish I could remembered my high school experiences better. And still, I yearn to sit under that willow tree with that bassline running through my head, someday.
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