Nanami Haruta: II
Trombonist Nanami Haruta’s debut release II from 2022 is another great example of new jazz albums from new players that keep flowing to the hands and ears of eager fans. Haruta, a young player who has been making an impact in the Japanese jazz scene, has been frequently featured as both leader and guest member at various live shows. In addition to this debut, she has also participated in other recent recordings such as 64 Charlesgate (2022) and For My Lady (2023).
As foreshadowed by the album’s opening with a stage-setting deep bass solo, this album is quietly tenacious, and the music initially settles in subtly but quickly sinks its hooks in. The compositional variation, the exciting instrumental solos and tradeoffs, and some brief moments of dual improvisation and free chaos, all contribute to the high repeatability of this package, tempting you back to play it again.
Through fifty minutes and seven tracks on II, the modern swing rhythms, melodic lines, and structural elements briefly give hints of 1950s and 60s Blue Note sounds, with its dynamically-charged drum palettes and bass grounding, cutting-edge piano framing, and captivating horn lines, recalling the hard bop albums from Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, and other jazz messengers.
As a trombone leader’s debut album, it’s probably no surprise that the influence of the great jazz trombonist J. J. Johnson is also evident, particularly on Johnson’s beautiful tune “Lament”, a pensive ballad played with genuine feeling by Haruta and the quintet. This ballad, along with Strayhorn’s “Day Dream”, provides lovely slower moments that are set against the other higher-energy tracks. These five tracks are invigorating and memorable, with a hard bop swinger, a cheerfully funky groover, a mysteriously see-sawing tune, a punchy uptempo ride, and a wild boiler. Through it all, each musician gets ample space to improvise and show their stuff.
Of course, as the group leader, Haruta is featured, as is her solid composition “1965” which opens the album (saxophonist Akihiro Yoshimoto also contributes three excellent originals). But Haruta’s spotlight is not at the expense of sidelining the other amazing players in the quintet. Mayuko Kamakura on piano, Yoshimoto on sax, Takumi Awaya on bass, and Shun Ishikawa on drums are given plenty of time to shine as well. This all pays off with a front-to-back jazz album that fits together wonderfully with satisfying dynamics.
As for the potentially confusing title of II, this may be a bit of a head-scratcher for a debut album. If this stands for “2” in Roman numerals, it would be an unexpected title for a first release. Or, is this a reference to the second-decade milestone mentioned in the liner notes? Could II signify something else, maybe not a numeral meaning at all? An uppercased romaji translation of the Japanese word ii (いい) meaning good, all right, and such? Or, internet slang for “I’m Impressed”? Or maybe, when represented as extended index and middle fingers counting “two”, indicating the peace sign often seen in selfies and group photos? Or maybe it’s an inside joke, or someone’s favorite number. Maybe we’re not meant to know, and that’s all right. Either way, I’m definitely impressed.
(Translated from the original Japanese liner notes written by Kouichi Nishimatsu, executive producer.)
Thoughts on II by Nanami Haruta.
I first met Nanami Haruta on November 20, 2020, at Shinjuku Pit Inn when she was a guest member in the horn section for Yoshiaki Masuo (増尾好秋) MAGATAMA “Cheer for Art! Stage Setup” photography shoot.
My first impression was of someone cute who didn’t look like a real trombone player. But when I heard her playing, it was truly powerful, a delicate and wonderful performance. Because I was busy with work on that day, I wasn’t able to speak to her for very long, but ended up going to her concerts several times after that.
Around that time, Yoshiaki Masuo’s individual project “ONE WORD” was selected for the same “Cheer for Art!”, and we spent days at my studio recording and mixing. Originally, the company’s studio was used exclusively for English healing teaching materials, radio commercial narration, and the like. However, this project led me to start recording music as well.
Which led me to ask Nanami, “Why don’t you make an album?” At first, she didn’t seem interested, but at some later performance Nanami said to me “Well, I think I’d like to make an album!” Nanami was only nineteen years old at the time, and I had always wanted to try producing an album from start to finish. So when she asked me “Can I leave everything up to you?”, I said “Yes”, and that was how the project started.
And, Yoshiaki Masuo. It goes without saying that Masuo is a world-class jazz guitarist. He even owns a studio in New York and has been involved in producing jazz music for twenty years. Having listened to Masuo’s guitar countless times and assisting him with performance activities in Japan, I thought I would love to play a part in his music production as well. I asked him to help, but Masuo’s stay in Japan was short and he was busy with live events at the time, so he had to firmly decline…at first. But after repeated requests, he agreed to help. And this was the moment that this project took on even more depth and substance.
First of all, the album concept. It was to be “The milestone of 20 years of age, with gratitude to the mentors who supported me in my hometown of Sapporo.” We started out focusing on slow ballad standards. After several meetings, we decided to focus on original songs. [For her ballad-centered album, see For My Lady from 2023.] Nanami Haruta’s “1965” became the first song on the album, and Akihiro Yoshimoto (tenor sax) graciously supplied three songs.
Next, the members. Nanami assembled some of the best young players in the world of young jazz today: Akihiro Yoshimoto (tenor sax), Mayuko Katakura (piano), Takumi Awaya (bass), and Shun Ishiwaka (drums). And in search of the best sound quality, we visited several Tokyo recording studios equipped with pianos. In the end, through introductions from Masami (Sam) Toyoshima (豊島政美), who designed the Beatles’ famous Abbey Road Studios and Victor Studios, we ended up recording at Victor’s Aoyama Studio.
On the day of the recording, November 29, 2021, we completed seven songs in a single day under the supervision of New York-trained Yoshiaki Masuo. Mixing at the company studio would start the following week. We spent many full days carefully mixing each song over three months. Mastering was completed using an analog open tape recorder.
This album was brought about through Nanami Haruta’s gathering of the best musicians, the best music, and the best creators, resulting in an amazing product. It’s not just for listening in one place, and whether on mobile devices, audio systems, or in different environments, you are sure to discover something new each time you listen. She is now twenty-one years old, as it took over a year of careful work to complete this album. Please, thoroughly enjoy Nanami Haruta’s first album II.
Koiuichi Nishimatsu (Music Stylist) September 23, 2022
II by Nanami Haruta
Nanami Haruta - trombone
Akihiro Yoshimoto - saxophone
Mayuko Katakura - piano
Takumi Awaya - bass
Shun Ishiwaka - drums
Released in 2022 on Media Stylist as MSC-9020.
Japanese names: Nanami Haruta 治田七海 Akihiro Yoshimoto 吉本章紘 Mayuko Katakura 片倉真由子 Takumi Awaya 粟谷巧 Shun Ishiwaka 石若駿
Audio and Video
Excerpt from “1965”, track #1 on this album: