Nakama: mixing jazz with Japanese folk plus crumbly bits in the middle

18th March 2017

Title: Most Intimate

Label: Nakama 

Nakama? ‘Comrade’ is a good translation of this Japanese word. Think of that word as a label of equality rather than as a militaristic or even left-wing political term. ‘Comrade’ in terms too of bonding, of concern for each other and of looking after each other.

This group, less than two years old, is based upon that term and in that sense. A five-piece lead by Norway’s Christian Meaas Svendsen (bass) who composes this thoughtful and often contemplative work, he is accompanied by Agnes Hvizdalek on vocals, Adrian Loseth Wade on violin, piano is attended to by Ayumi Tanaka and Andreas Wildhagen handles with drums.

And that music? There’s plenty of influences here from European jazz to traditional Japanese music though to more contemporary fare.

The construction of the album – and it seems that way – looked to plug in to ‘first contact’. That is, without knowing the work you’re about to play. Neil Young has adopted this position on a couple of his more notable albums. Hence, it’s not new. What is new are the people playing. Every time this sort of concept arises then there is a real sense of the fresh and the new. In the same way that Frank Sinatra hated to rehearse scenes for a take on a movie set and believed that the first ‘take’ was always the best and that other takes would lose the magic and only become stale, Nakama adopts that same, ‘fresh out of the egg’ approach that borders on improv.

The pace of the album is interesting. It walks and strolls. Which means that everyone moves together, en masse (sometimes in twos and threes but always together). It’s almost as if everyone is listening to everyone else. It’s more than the ‘comrade’ thing. There’s a sort of hive mentality with this group. Or maybe a shoal. Of fish. Moving and twisting and shifting and making pictures with their movements.

Mastering is good for a CD. A bit ‘digital’ in is slight hardness but nothing damaging.