Discover more from Jazz of Japan
Yuichi Narita: Urban Nocturne
With many jazz bars and performance opportunities reduced during the pandemic period, musicians used novel approaches to create and record music. Musicians would play together over video feeds, host live online events, and send audio files back and forth to one another for collaboration. Some musicians also composed and recorded in conditions resembling self-isolation or even quarantine, resulting in an increase in self-produced music created entirely at home by individual artists. Many of the albums released in recent years share these common bonds like generational traits imprinted on the music. This is another small way by which this period leaves unique reminders of the strangeness of the times characterized by new restrictions, lockdowns, medicines, and masks.
Yuichi Narita’s 2022 project provides a great example from the self-created category with his first solo album Urban Nocturne. The versatile musician recorded his songs alone using computer midi to record piano, synthesizer, drums, and other instruments. Truly an independent creation, Narita also created the artwork and design and completed the mixing and mastering for this album.
The album contains nine original songs and one classical piece by Chopin. The music has an interesting flow and is one of the more unique entries in a Japanese jazz collection, alternating between electronic and acoustic styles from track to track. Many songs are quick sketches on the shorter side. Half are in the two-to-three-minute range, and the rest are three-to-five minutes long, making for an album running time of a quick thirty-one minutes.
Narita is well-known as a jazz pianist leader and consummate sideman performing at clubs in Japan, and naturally jazz music can be found on this disc. His modern style makes use of acoustic piano, Rhodes, accordion, and other instruments, and strong similarities could be made to popular pianists like Brad Mehldau, Robert Glasper, and Keith Jarrett. There is even a brief tribute track “L.T.”, where Narita’s twisty, angular lines riding over a relentless cymbal pattern conjure up Lennie Tristano’s cool style.
Between the jazz selections, Narita freely incorporates other influences and genres. Club music, hip-hop, electronica, groove, bebop, European, and classical music surface in the tracks like sampling the genres available in the musician’s prismatic mind. Adding to the electronic colors of synthesizers, samples, and beats are acoustic instruments like accordion, cello, bass, and drums, all played in various combinations, overdubbed, and recorded by Narita.
When initially listening to this album, first impressions flit between distinguishing the electronic music with hip-hop drum beats from the acoustic-sounding music in modern jazz or ballad styles. The album is roughly evenly split between the styles, creating a back-and-forth flow that is fluctuating yet balanced. With some songs lasting only a few minutes, the listener stays engaged with these dream-like changes which morph from tune to tune.
The combination of instruments is also fascinatingly varied. On the electronic tracks (#1, 3, 6, 9), synthesizers and hip-hop drum beats are the primary sounds, with Rhodes piano and electric keyboards looping stylish riffs and groovy melodies. Contrastingly, the interlaced tracks (#2, 4, 5, 7, 8) are rooted in acoustic jazz and ballad playing, where piano, bass, accordion, and percussion create lovely, pensive music draped in rich harmonies, emotional content, and deep reverb. This is especially powerful on the two-part title tracks “Urban Nocturne I” (with piano, accordion, cello) and “Urban Nocturne II” (piano with overdubbed piano), two high points on an album full of equally beautiful yet dissimilar peaks. The final track #10 concludes the journey intimately with a Chopin etude, an emotional farewell that winds down this Urban Nocturne with classical beauty.
Urban Nocturne by Yuichi Narita
Yuichi Narita - piano, Rhodes, organ, synthesizer, accordion, cello, bass, drums, percussion
Released in 2021 on Coffee Table Records as COTA-001.
Japanese names: Yuichi Narita 成田祐一
Audio and Video
Excerpt from “No Return”, track #4 on this album: