Fumika Asari: Introducin'
Fumika Asari’s first album is Introducin’ from 2020, a satisfying debut with a mix of players, combinations, and a to-the-point title with a respectful nod to classic jazz album titles. The beautiful sound of acoustic jazz matches well with the young guitarist’s natural style and concept, jazz that shuns attention-seeking tricks and lofty effects in favor of a genuine, pared-down jazz feeling.
From song to song, the combination of musicians and styles changes, shuffling between quartets, trios, and duos. Throughout, relaxed easiness and vintage swing arise from classy ensemble playing and spotlit guitar improvisation. As for the changing combos, a guitar quartet is featured on track #1 (guitar, piano, bass, drums), then a trio on #2 (guitar, bass, drums), a guitar & guitar duo, a quartet, a trio, a guitar & piano duo, a quartet (guitar, alto sax, trombone, bass), a sextet, and finally a guitar solo. This variation of players and combinations of instruments keeps things interesting while introducing Asari’s musical vision for her debut release.
The first two tracks on Introducin’ are instantly welcoming, with the nice bossa group sound on “Triste” followed by a bluesy jazz groove on Asari’s original “Summit”, a song with a classic vintage vibe recalling the feeling of Grant Green or Sonny Clark albums. Next, “Black Orpheus” pairs Asari with guitarist Sadanori Nakamure for the hypnotic sound of two guitars playing off of each other. (Asari is also featured on a 2022 release entitled Generations Guitar Trio with Nakamure and guitarist Mitsukuni Tanabe, expanding on this layered guitar sound with a full album).
Other highlights include a comfortably swinging jazz quartet on “Bluesette”, up-tempo excitement on “Daahood”, and even some pop easy-listening with two Carpenters songs played back-to-back near the end of the album. Asari ends with an especially sentimental guitar solo on “But Beautiful”, leaving a warm impression as a lasting introduction to her music.
(Translated from the original Japanese liner notes written by Hiro Yamanaka.)
In the summer of 2015, I was in Ochanomizu covering the finals of the Gibson Jazz Guitar contest. While exchanging pleasantries with an acquaintance who was a jazz guitarist, she told me about a wonderful young woman, a guitarist who was appearing that day. That was the day I first heard the playing of Fumika Asari.
It was also the day that signaled to me the coming of a new generation, as I heard the traditional old-style playing (in a good way) of a guitarist still in her early 20s. After that, I had the opportunity to interview her several times for jazz magazines, and as I got to know her personally I could sense her unchanging honest characteristics, and perhaps a slightly stubborn side as well, if I may be so bold. I was happy as I sensed the progress of her guitar playing over time as if it were my own accomplishment. As she was polishing her skills accumulating many live performances with excellent musicians, it was not only this writer but many jazz guitar fans who were looking forward to her debut recording. And now that time has come.
Anyone listening to this work Introducin’ will certainly feel happy. You can understand how she loves jazz, and how she studied the playing styles of many legends. Rather than writing liner notes in the old style of a track-by-track explanation, it seems unnecessary because the listener's heart and ears will judge while enjoying the music. So here I will write mainly about my honest feelings.
There are many jazz guitarists in Japan's jazz scene now expressing themselves in different styles. In particular, young guitarists seem to prefer a traditional style. Of course, there are guitarists such as May Inoue who pursue new expressions and styles, which is an attractive part of the future of Japanese jazz guitar.
Fumika Asari's jazz origins were most likely influenced by Mingus, an old jazz cafe in her hometown of Fukushima City where she heard the music of players like Grant Green and Jim Hall.
As those who know these two legends are aware, their musical sensibilities vary widely, yet she absorbed them simultaneously. For example, you can hear a strong Grant Green style in the straight melodic expression in “Triste” and “Bluesette”, but when it comes to ad-libbed improvisation, within the Grant Green style you can hear some Jim Hall coexisting in the construction of harmony and flow of her phrasing.
Emily Remler is another guitarist who influenced her. In addition to Remler's hard-picking and powerful swing, perhaps the recording of “Daahoud” here is influenced by Remler's recording of “Daahoud.” As for “Daahoud,” the name comes from a colleague of composer Clifford Brown, the trumpeter Talib Dawud. This must be an expression of respect characteristic of jazz players.
This album contains two original songs, both of which are excellent and fully express Asari's sensitivity. Surely I'm not the only one who can also feel the good sensibility of Emily Remler here. And the seventh and eighth songs are arranged like a medley of two hit songs by a band she loves, the Carpenters. It's a really smart, crowd-pleasing technique.
Picking highlights is difficult when all the tracks are so good, but the duo on "Black Orpheus" with Japanese jazz guitar god Sadanori Nakamure naturally deserves special mention. In recent years, Asari has been performing regularly in a guitar trio with Nakamure and Mitsukuni Tanabe, and knowing their minds so well they breathe life into the songs head-on. It's quite admirable. Incidentally, both Asari and Nakamure were born in the Year of the Rooster, yet there is a sixty-year age difference!
How is Fumika Asari's debut album? The guitar tone is incredibly beautiful! Plus, the importance of the melody and poetic sentiment is conveyed. And, the special attention paid to the various formations, and the support of the participating musicians really shines through. In the 1947 American film Road to Rio, Bing Crosby sings the song “But Beautiful” with lyrics comparing the aspects of love. I don't think that this meaning here of the word “beautiful” is the same as the Japanese word “utsukushii” (beautiful). As this “beautiful” is expressed by the meaning of the lyrics as “subarashii” (wonderful), such is Fumika Asari's solo guitar beautiful.
Jazz journalist Hiro Yamanaka 山中弘行
Introducin' by Fumika Asari
Fumika Asari - guitar
Sadanori Nakamure - guitar (#3)
Satoshi Kosugi - bass (#1, 2)
Daiki Mishima - bass (#4, 5, 7, 8)
Mamoru Ishida - piano, Rhodes (#6, 8)
Kanoko Kitajima - piano (#1, 4)
Hiro Kimura - drums (#1, 2, 8)
Yusuke Yaginuma - drums (#4, 5)
Akane Ezawa - alto saxophone (#7, 8)
Itsumi Komano - trombone (#7, 8)
Released in 2020 on ReBorn Wood as RBW-0018.
Japanese names: Fumika Asari 浅利史花 Sadanori Nakamure 中牟礼貞則 Satoshi Kosugi 小杉敏 Daiki Mishima 三嶋大輝 Mamoru Ishida 石田衛 Kanoko Kitajima 北島佳乃子 Hiro Kimura 木村紘 Yusuke Yaginuma 柳沼佑育 Akane Ezawa 江澤茜 Itsumi Komano 駒野逸美
Audio and Video
Excerpt from “Triste”, track #1 on this album: