JAZU: Jazz from Japan. Review. May Inoue – First Train

May Inoue - First Train

EMI Japan – TOCJ – 68094 – 2011

May Inoue: guitar

Takahiro Izumikawa: piano, Fender Rhodes

Shunya Wakai: upright bass

Yuto Maseki: drums

Akemi Ohta: flute

Yuiga Hayakawa: alto sax

Koki Matsui: alto sax

He earned high esteem from Kazumi Watanabe, an internationally renowned Japanese jazz and fusion guitarist, and this debut album, published last year, suddenly was awarded as “best album of the year” by Jazz Japan, the most influent Japanese jazz magazine.

These important achievements even take an higher value, considering that Inoue is barely more than twenty and started playing the instrument just a few years ago.

After beginning his musical path taking piano lessons and then switching to drums, which he quitted to apply himself to high school studies, one day, while playing casually an old guitar owned by his older brother, he found in it his choice instrument, the expression vehicle he was looking for.

Initially attracted by rock and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, one of his first guitar heroes, Inoue received a musical astonishment by going to Blue Note Tokyo to attend a concert of guitarist Mike Stern. On that occasion he discovered an all new universe of sounds and colors which pushed him to devote himself definitely to jazz.

After this discovering, he started listening to everything labeled as “jazz” and studying tirelessly the guitar. Shortly after, he inaugurated his concert activity in Tokyo’s jazz clubs collaborating with some of the best names in Japanese jazz scene.

Now, this debut recording is the most worthwhile chance to delineate a musical portrait of this brilliant young musician.

The album opens with First Train, a fast tempo, energic title track that soon reveals Inoue’s fluid and uncontainable phrasing, a musical flow that also makes room for pauses and melodic sensitivity, very important elements in his guitar style.

Hawk’s Eye, an extended Metheny-inspired Inoue’s original, highlights his already remarkable compositional skills through a melodic and metrical development aiming at an idea of musical narration, alternation of styles and an amazing technique focused on an overall idea of music.

In the light of this approach, his Village seems to musically tell the story of a small community’s day. Awakening of the chief of the tribe: a quiet and slowly rising guitar solo intro by the young leader; the meeting with the other inhabitants: with the band members’ entrance; the most hard working moment of the day, revealed in an heated dialogue with Yuiga Hayakawa’s alto sax; until a more relaxed end of the day, expressed by the same peaceful guitar movement which opened the composition.

Inoue also pays homage to his musical idols performing covers enriched by uncommon rhythmic and harmonic solutions that make the revisitations always stimulating. Among them a seducing version of Tell me a Bed Time Story, made interesting by using a more relaxed tempo compared to Hancock’s original, as well as a dreamy rendition of Jeff Beck’s Diamond Dust.

Above all, for its accomplished musical performance and arrangement, is Led Zeppelin’s masterwork Kashmir, that here strengthen its original oriental flavor with the addition of Akemi Ohta’s flute.

Also more “easy listening” original tunes, like Ganeze or Relaxin, turns out to be inspired due to Inoue’s exquisite improvisational taste.

His extraordinary harmonic knowledge comes out in the beautiful intro of Darn That Dream or in the touching solo act of Clapton’s Change the World, two minutes containing Inoue’s all future musical potentialities.