What a time capsule this little jazz album is! Don't get me wrong, by that I don't mean that it's dated. No, decades have passed, but the music here seems as fresh and jazzy as ever--sometimes it's sprightly and rambunctious, sometimes laid back and meditative, now it's red hot and then it's got a bit of the blues. But whatever the case, Dave Brubeck and his Quartet keep the tunes flowing along without missing a beat. This is definitely fine jazz music in the tradition of their classic "Time Out" album, only lesser known and with a mildly orientalish twist.
Still, listening to "Jazz Impressions of Japan" is like taking a trip back in time to Japan in the early sixties, around the very time Mr. Brubeck was getting those impressions and translating them into music. Which is kind of incredible, because only the last track ("Koto Song"--an ingenious fusion of fine koto melodies from Kyoto and jazz improvisation) explicitly adapts actual Japanese music in a recognizable manner, but all of them capture the moods of this lively decade of Japan's history with startling vividness, and that despite the annoyingly inauthentic "gong" sound they insist on using here and there throughout. "The music we have prepared tries to convey these minute but lasting impressions, somewhat in the manner of classical haiku, wherein the poet expects the reader to feel the scene himself as an experience," Brubeck explains in the liner notes, and so he succeeded, at least in my case.
Incidentally, the haiku theme permeates the liner notes, with Brubeck cleverly appending an appropriate poem to each track, including ones by three of the greats of the Haiku tradition: Matsuo Basho, Kobayashi Issa, and Yosa Buson. In that sense too this album is a time capsule, for it captures the incipient American fascination with refined aspects of Japanese culture like haiku poetry and Zen philosophy right there as it was maturing in the cradle of the whole beatnik jazz scene and starting to take baby steps beyond. The oddly minimalist "Zen is When" is a perfect case in point, of course. But on the road from Tokyo to Osaka these Dharma Bums come dressed impeccably in suit and tie, ready to take you along with a musical high.
All come with jewel case, liner booklet and the CD disc itself.
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