Takuya Kuroda

Rising Son

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Japan-born/N.Y.C.-based trumpeter Takuya Kuroda's Blue Note Records debut, 2014's Rising Son, is a funky, soul and hip-hop-infused affair featuring production from acclaimed jazz vocalist José James. Longtime collaborators, Kuroda and James met while students at Manhattan's New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, and Kuroda later toured with James and wrote the horn arrangements for his 2012 album, No Beginning No End. Technically, Rising Son is Kuroda's fourth album after three previous independent releases that found him working through a more swinging, post-bop jazz sound, with the occasional funk-inflected diversion. On Rising Son, Kuroda delves deep into a '70s fusion, funk, and Afro-beat-influenced sound that is at once contemporary and vintage in approach. In many ways, the sound of Rising Son has a lot in common with James' own soul-jazz style, and his guest spot on Roy Ayers' "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" is certainly a highlight of the album. However, while there is palpable synergistic energy at play between James and Kuroda, it's Kuroda's assured, dynamic trumpet playing that grabs the spotlight on Rising Son. Backing Kuroda here is his working ensemble featuring trombonist Corey King, Rhodes keyboardist Kris Bowers, bassist Solomon Dorsey, and drummer Nate Smith. Together, Kuroda and his band play a clipped, muscular funk-jazz that shows the influence of artists like African-legend Hugh Masekela and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Tracks like the Latin-tinged "Mala" and the frenetic "Afro Blues" (which showcases a guest appearance by famed West African guitarist Lionel Loueke) are hypnotic, pulsing, and joyous. Many of the songs on Rising Son have a modern, dance-ready sheen to them, with James pushing the drums to the front of the mix and cradling Kuroda and King's horns in a rounded, almost phaser-like mike sound. While some hip-hop-influenced jazz can seem rhythmically static, sacrificing improvisation for beats, the tracks on Rising Son never get too smooth. James leaves just enough organic grit in the mix to remind you that that this is live, improvisational music, not that you'd forget with Kuroda bursting through many of these cuts with a puckered intensity. And while this is unquestionably a jazz album, nothing on Rising Son feels like an intellectual harmonic exercise, as so many recordings by post-collegiate jazz artists sometimes do. Whether further illuminating the soul of Roy Ayers, or slipping ever deeper into the romantic slow jam of his own "Sometime Somewhere Somehow," Kuroda reveals himself to be a gifted melodicist with an abiding trust in groove, not to mention trumpet chops and charisma to spare. Ultimately, Rising Son isn't just Kuroda's major-label debut, it's a major artistic statement.

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