Nobuki Takamen: Bull’s Blues – Jazz Guitar Life CD Review

Jazz may have originated in the United States, but it has become a leading cultural export having been adopted by countless guys and gals in diverse cultural communities worldwide as their music of choice. Japanese Jazz Guitarist Nobuki Takamen, now residing in Jersey City, is no exception.

Having been hit by the Jazz bug at 14 in Hiroshima, Nobuki took it upon himself to study, play and make a living as a Jazz Guitarist. With the release of his first CD Bull’s Blues as a leader, he’s well on his way to becoming a strong voice in the Jazz Guitar Community both stateside and internationally.

This was my first impression upon hearing Nobuki’s music and is still, after many repeat visits in my CD player, the foremost feeling I get. The tunes are memorable and dynamic with tight arrangements and of course, great playing from all involved. The group sounds like they have been playing together for years as each player contributes a familiar intuitiveness towards the development and direction of Nobuki’s compositions.

The title tune sets the stage for the listener, as the quirky head played by Nobuki and sizzling Tenor Sax player Ro Hasegawa, and stop-time syncopated rhythm section arrangement, gets us into the swing of things right away before heading off to a Blues based solo section. Nobuki, Hasegawa and Pianist Hitoshi Kanda are the featured soloists as Bassist Toshiyuki Tanahashi and Drummer Makato Kikuchi keep the music pulsing strongly. A great way to kick off the CD.

The next tune “14-1”, reminding me of the Jazz Messengers, is one of my favorites. It features an intricate head that is still hummable as the rhythm section does another stop-time arrangement. Nobuki, Hasegawa and Kanda are once again featured as soloists, delivering strong improvisational statements with Nobuki getting to show off a little with some quick runs. And while everyone plays great, the “star” of the tune is drummer Makato Kikuchi. She’s as energetic and swinging a drummer as I’ve ever heard and gives any contemporary drummer playing this style of music a run for their money.

While the guys and gal can burn up the charts, they can also lay back quite nicely. “For The Stranger”, is a lovely ballad with a soulful melody. Both Nobuki and Hasegawa play thoughtful solos over the changes with Nobuki getting in some double-time lines to spice things up a tad. The rest of the group provide steadfast accompaniment with Kikuchi adding some nice brush work to the mix.

“No Chance”, “Strolling In Downtown”, ‘The Other Side Of City” and “After Dinner” feature the group in more relaxed fare. This is not to say that the tunes are any less energetic or enthused as the up-tempo tunes, just a little more laid back. Nobuki gets to exhibit some fine chops in each of these tunes as he displays a keen sense of melody and taste.

And speaking of fine chops, Nobuki plays some first-rate lines during the up-tempo tune “Homage”, another one of my fav tunes on this CD. Kikuchi intros the tune, setting up Nobuki and Hasegawa to play the hard-bop head together before Nobuki takes his solo. Hasegawa also gets to blow some enduring phrases before they take the head out. Nicely done!

The last tune, “Union Square Nobels”, a slower number, is a bit of a surprise as Nobuki performs the song on acoustic with Kikuchi and Tanahasi adding support. It’s a sweet ballad that kind of reminds me of something James Taylor would write. Nobuki plays nicely on this tune keeping the flavor of the song always in mind. Tanahasi gets a chorus to solo over while Nobuki comps for him gracefully. A peaceful way to end the listening experience and the CD.

Nobuki Takamen has traveled a long path to get where he is today. His music and guitar playing reflect that journey and if you like fine music and playing then don’t hesitate to check out Nobuki’s Bull’s Blues. I for one look forward to what’s coming next.

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