Thursday, March 12, 2015

Jizue - Novel

Fantastic Modern Jazz

Coming from Kyoto, Jizue is a rather intriguing group consisting of a piano, guitar, bass and drums. Japan does actually have a pretty solid jazz scene, and there's a quite a few small instrumental groups like this lurking around. To my knowledge, Jizue is actually relatively popular, and I think they've toured overseas a few times as well. At the time of writing, the group has four albums out, and I do enjoy them all. However, Novel is by far my favourite from these guys, and it contains some really amazing tracks.

The subgenre Jizue lands in is nu jazz which is admittedly not very descriptive, but there's always been a strong post-rock influence in their sound and on Novel it's probably the strongest. Not surprisingly, Kie Katagi's piano wizardry and Noriyuki Inoue's guitar playing take most of the leads and the majority of the melody. Both are fantastic players and really show it well throughout the album by weaving infectiously complex and catchy melodies while bouncing off each other constantly. Go Yamada on bass and Shin Kokawa on drums don't show off nearly as much, but neither are slackers. The two provide a very solid rhythm and foundation for the group to shine as a whole.

Paradoxically, Novel is probably the band's most inconsistent album despite my earlier declaration. This is not because there are bad tracks, but simply because sun, unnecessary pain and chaser are the first three consecutive songs and strongest works on the album. The ones following are certainly not even remotely bad, but there's a slight quality drop. Indeed, the biggest flaw of the album is really just the song order. Perhaps if you shuffle them up, you might get a more pleasing result, but I really don't have any concrete ideas in this regard.

The album does actually open up with the mandatory intro track called intro which is just a brief electronic opening that doesn't add much or take anything away. Sun begins with a beautiful and infectiously catchy acoustic guitar melody from Noriyuki. The rest of the band comes in and creates a very mellow and pleasing atmosphere. The song itself gradually builds up and reaches an amazing climax while playing around with different chords and keys. Overall, the mood settles down a bit before very appropriately ending with Noriyuki's guitar. It's also the first song I personally heard (and probably many others) from the band, and I was immediately hooked.

In contrast, the following tune, unnecessary pain, is a much more wild and explosive. It opens calmly with Kie playing the usual “Chinese scale” before she bursts out into some ridiculous, rhythmically-complex piano playing. Here, the band showcasts a lot of math-rock influence and it really works. You can hear them flirt with a lot with complex time signatures and weirdly-timed melodies. It's a showy piece, but a really well-written one. Strangely enough, the song closes with rather straightforward post-rockish section while fading into Kie's seemingly-erratic piano.

The next song, chaser, is hands-down my favourite from the group. It follows in the spirit of unnecessary pain by being rather wild and out there. The song starts off innocently enough with a syncopated, interesting melody that all the melodic instruments eventually play together in unison. But then the middle section happens, and it's mindblowing. Suddenly, everyone is thrown into this insane, complex time signature with Kie and Noriyuki playing some really jawdropping and technical leads. Go's bass slaps and Shin's weirdly-timed drumming only makes it more convincing. Quite frankly, the instrumental playing is just ridiculous, and this particular section grabs my attention every time I hear it. Afterwards, the band goes back to the opening melody, and later ends doing a rather loud and slightly dissonant variation on that melody. It's just fantastic from start to finish.

Now, I really hate to say it, but it doesn't get quite as good again. Of course, some listeners may disagree, but I personally like Jizue the best when they're showy. The rest of the album is mostly mellow and calm which is not a bad thing, but I normally like things loud. Fortunately, these guys are excellent songwriters and can write soft material that can keep guys like me interested as well. To shake things up, the band incorporates some electronic elements such as in c-loud which is solid, but it works much better on kotonoha which also features some very pretty female vocals near the end.

It's not like the rest of the album doesn't have any wild or adventurous moments, but after coming off of such a song as amazing as chaser the rest of the album is just not quite as good to me. It's definitely a lot more straightforward musically and less “mathy.” Nonetheless, it's still good stuff, and I'm pretty sure that what I'm perceiving as a little flaw is pretty much only a problem for dumb metalheads like me who like everything loud. Hitorinouta and pray are both really good tracks that showcase both more mellow and louder sides of the band. It's also worth mentioning that ふる里 is a really soft and almost ambient song that creates a really ethereal, dreamy atmosphere. It's not my thing, but it's done pretty well. Regardless, the last sections of pray are really fantastic with a soulful guitar solo from Noriyuki and a soft ending a little later with just piano and guitar.

I'm not a huge jazz buff, but for those that are into more modern stuff and aren't afraid of experimentation this is definitely a group you should check out. Jizue does also have a really strong post-rock influence throughout their works, so this will also appeal to fans of math-rock/post-rock especially if you already like Japan's scene. Despite my whining, this album is absolutely fantastic and try not to put too much weight on that. If every track was as good as chaser, this might have been one of the greatest things I've ever heard, but instead, it's “just” among the best albums I have.

Rating: 90/100

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