The name Takuya Kuroda should sound very familiar to fans of Blue Note recording artist José James. If you’ve ever seen James live, or caught one of his many YouTube live sessions, you will have seen Kuroda in action anchoring the horn section behind James’ powerful vocals.
The Japanese trumpeter and composer made his first trip to the U.S. just 13 years ago. He couldn’t speak a word of English, but the universal language of jazz provided the framework for the most unlikely manifestation of the American Dream – Becoming a jazz musician. After honing his chops at New York’s New School, and learning the ins-and-outs of the business alongside James, he’s ready to step out into the spotlight with his Blue Note Records debut ‘Rising Son.’
The album is supremely accessible – A simmering mix of the cultures and influences that make Kuroda one of the most distinctive young players around.
From the entrancing Lionel Loueke-assisted afrobeat rhythms of “Afro Blue,” to the big drums of hip-hop infused “Piri Piri,” to the soulful vibes of Roy Ayers cover “Green and Gold” (my personal favorite cut on the album), to the funky vibes of another Ayers cover of “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” with José James on vocals – Elements are mixed and melded as they permeate every corner of the album to create a near-perfect combination of the old and the new atop a foundation of jazz. This isn’t an album you can’t sit still and listen to – The result of album producer Jose James’ influence. He told Kuroda: “Make sure you have something in the music that makes people bob their heads.” Musicians take note – This is timeless advice.
But the question that will no doubt be on every commentators mind is: Is It Jazz? I can almost hear the jazz-purist blogger’s keyboards tapping away as they pontificate about the issue, but at the end of the day none of that matters. Genre is not as easily defined as I may make it seem in the last paragraph, and as a community (if you believe a ‘jazz community’ exists), it’s time to hang up these outdated notions and barriers that provide some rigid and arbitrary definition of something that is fluid, ever-flowing, and ever-evolving.
Everything you need to know about this album can be summed up in a single sentence. Rising Son represents the fusion of all of Takuya Kuroda’s influences as a musician, and a skilled one at that.
This album should be required listening for anyone with an interest in jazz, funk, afrobeat, hip-hop, or any combination of the above. This is a solid major-label debut that proves Kuroda’s rightful place is in the spotlight.