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Seiji Harakawa Quartet: Skipping Down the Street
Phrases like good honest work and good clean fun convey the simple and satisfying rewards that result from high levels of skill, effort, and enjoyment. Good honest music is a simple but to-the-point description of saxophonist Seiji Harakawa’s debut album Skipping Down the Street, an excellent showcase for the agile alto sax leader and rhythm section to project their skill, effort, and enjoyment of jazz.
The full group listed on the record, “Seiji Harakawa Quartet featuring Fukushi Tainaka” also emphasizes the importance of drums and groove on this album, and honors Harakawa’s experience playing living legend drummer Tainaka in New York for half a decade before Harakawa returned to Japan.
This 9-track album runs for 52 minutes and includes a selection of jazz covers and three of the leader’s original songs. Most of the songs are taken at a good-feeling mid-tempo 4/4 groove that doesn’t drag or get old in the least. The quartet’s playing is naturally top-notch, with familiar jazz patterns and quotes thrown in from time to time, lending authenticity to the players’ sense of togetherness and shared jazz language.
A few ballads and Latin songs are included for variety: the standard “Cherokee”, a song often played at breakneck speed as a sort of thrill-ride woodshedding contest, is here surprisingly played at a slow and pleasant pace, and fast-tempo responsibilities are taken up by the quartet’s high-speed, exciting playing on the American baseball anthem “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”.
The sound of the quartet is very much focused on locked-in swing and hard bop drive, taking after the positive energy and strong rhythms that groups like Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers were creating in the 1950s. It may not be a coincidence that Harakawa was also a member of a local Japanese jazz combo called the Japanese Jazz Messengers, and he released three albums with that group in recent years leading up to this debut release.
Harakawa’s alto sax sound is strong, fluid, and engaging, very well suited for the spotlight on his debut album. Harakawa’s sax can recall bop giants like Sonny Stitt with his technically agile sound and effortless playing steeped in bebop and blues. This is quite apparent on the final track, Harakawa’s “Give Me More Hot Sauce”, which is a perfect album closer with its laid-back bluesy groove and the silky smooth leads that Harakawa sings through his sax.
I’ve seen Harakawa’s group play through the years and have always been impressed by the group preparation, skill, and consistency of their performances. From song selection, arrangements, and solid groove, the music is always fulfilling and leaves a lasting impression.
One of the best things I can say about the music on Skipping Down the Street is that the live performance feeling is captured so well on this recording. A gem that honors Harakawa’s exceptional effort and abilities, this release is full of reliable and pure jazz that doesn’t disappoint, drawing on the skill and love that these musicians have for good honest music.
Skipping Down the Street by Seiji Harakawa Quartet
Seiji Harakawa - saxophone
Hiroyuki Takubo - piano
Motoi Kanamori - bass
Fukushi Tainaka - drums
Released in 2020 on T & A Music as SEI-001.
Japanese names: Seiji Harakawa 原川誠司 Hiroyuki Takubo 田窪寛之 Motoi Kanamori 金森もとい Fukushi Tainaka 田井中福司
Audio and Video
Excerpt from "I've Never Been in Love Before", track #5 on this album: