Tag Archives: Japanese Jazz

[Album Review] Uyama Hiroto – Freeform Jazz

Sometimes an album catches you off guard, rising from nowhere and roaring into your ears with new sounds and ideas. Such an album grows on you over time, and eventually can reorient what music and sounds you thought you liked. Freeform Jazz, released on November 1 by Japanese producer and multi-instrumentalist Uyama Hiroto for Roph Recordings, is such an album. Emotionally rich, culturally diverse, and technically brilliant, it’s the artist’s third full-length release, his first since 2014’s Freedom of the Son, and it appeared with little to no fanfare or publicity in the United States.

Little information exists about Uyama Hiroto online, but he could first be heard playing the saxophone and clarinet in the music of deceased Japanese beat legend Nujabes, whose blend of jazz and hip hop was known for its technical precision, immaculate sampling, diversity of influence and melancholic vibe. Though Nujabes, real name Seba Jun, passed away in 2010, Uyama Hiroto has been driving forward the Japanese jazz/hip-hop sound and style, which itself has roots far deeper than Nujabes. Hiroto’s prior releases are excellent, but they don’t stray too far from Nujabes’ work. Now, high artistic risk pays off with a high reward on Freeform Jazz, which elevates his own sound and the Japanese jazz style to even higher ground.

The beautiful artwork on the album’s cover is representative of the musical elements which make the album so magical. First, like the painting, the music is rooted (although not exclusively) in prior Japanese musical tradition. Pentatonic scales and warm, emotive piano phrasing saturate the record, and recalls the work of 1970’s-1980’s jazz piano player Ryo Fukui. Constant melodies from the xylophone mix with the piano to establish a backdrop which sounds the way a Japanese maple garden looks in the autumn. This wash of colorful sound can be most clearly heard on “Yamato Damasii”.

’Yamato Damasii’

The album’s cover has a certain liquidity to it, a fluid rearrangement of the traditional horseman image which looks as if it’s being reflected in water. Similarly, Hiroto filters his acoustic material ever so delicately, resulting in music which sometimes sounds like its being played in a glass of water. Listen to “Skipper” for that effect exemplified.
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