Isao Suzuki - Approach
BBE Music’s highly-acclaimed J Jazz Masterclass Series continues with an album that unites three J Jazz legends with a young musician beginning their professional career. Recorded and released in 1986, ‘Approach’ is both sophisticated and experimental in equal measure, balancing serene ambient moments with thunderous and dynamic explosions of energy.
‘Approach’ was originally issued on the Art Union label and sees bass uber-maestro Isao Suzuki, percussion and drumming icon Masahiko Togashi, and keyboard wizard Hideo Ichikawa join together with neophyte guitarist Akira Shiomoto to deliver a first-class showcase of contemporary jazz across five tracks, demonstrating their individual talents working as one unified ensemble.
Suzuki’s deeply resonant and pliant basslines move sinuously across the album, supporting Togashi’s ebullient flashes of percussion and Ichikawa’s lush textures and colourations; topping it all off is the young Shiomoto’s guitar adding melodic texture and shine. Opening with ‘Make Trip’, Ichikawa’s gentle introduction makes way for a change of gear as Suzuki’s bass drives the band along before Togashi’s drum and percussion centrepiece solo leads to the outro. The plaintive and bluesy ‘Otari’ follows next, with Ichikawa’s piano flowing around and between the rhythmic undertow from Suzuki and Togashi. Things turn slightly more experimental on ‘Mysterious’ as Suzuki, the piece’s composer, turns to arco bass effects and Ichikawa employs synthesiser and electronic textures to add colour to the palette. Opening with a boldly stark solo piano part, ‘Tornado’ is written by Ichikawa and continues with a freely improvised section from the group as Togashi’s characteristically inventive drum solo once again leads the piece to its culmination before seeing Suzuki re-join to conclude. The album’s closer, ‘East Words’, written by Togashi, is a magnificent example of the ensemble’s interplay and control; a beautifully modulated intro from piano, bass and drums opens the piece with the freshness and light of a morning sunrise. Ichikawa’s use of synth strings reveals a new and unexpected intensity to the performance, as the track builds further into a head nodding, bass driven exploration of Ichikawa’s piano and Togashi’s finely paced percussion. As an album closer, it couldn’t be more perfect.
This is the first time this album has been reissued since it’s original release 36 years ago.
Born in Tokyo in 1933, Isao Suzuki learned to play on United States military bases and played early on in his career with Shotaro Moriyasu, Hidehiko Matsumoto, and Sadao Watanabe. He led his own ensemble in Tokyo from 1965–1969 before moving to New York City where he lived until 1971, playing with Ron Carter, Paul Desmond, Ella Fitzgerald, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, and many others. Returning to Japan, he began expanding his instrumental repertoire, playing cello and piccolo bass, and opened a jazz club in Osaka in 1987. He was awarded The Fumio Nanri prize in 2008 and died in 2022, aged 89.
Masahiko Togashi was born in 1940 and was one of the leading Japanese jazz percussionists and composers. In a densely contested field of exceptionally talented drummers, Togashi stood out as one of the most versatile and distinctive. He worked with Sadao Watanabe, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Tony Scott in the 1950s, then founded the ensemble Jazz Academy in 1961 with Hideto Kanai, Masabumi Kikuchi, and Masayuki Takayanagi. Togashi was an early free jazz leader in Japan, playing with Yosuke Yamashita and performing with American musicians such as Ornette Coleman, Lee Morgan, and Sonny Rollins.
In 1969 Togashi lost the use of his legs in an accident and designed a new drum kit that allowed him to continue playing. Later associations included performing and recording with Paul Bley, Don Cherry, Jack DeJohnette, Steve Lacy, Gary Peacock, and Masahiko Sato. Togashi died in 2007.
Pianist Hideo Ichikawa was born in 1945 and joined the George Otsuka Trio, playing with him from 1966 to 1972, appearing on several key albums by Otsuka as well as George Kawaguchi’s New Big 4. Ichikawa has also performed with the Terumasa Hino Group, Akira Miyazawa, and Hidehiko Matsumoto, with whom he recorded one of the defining albums in J Jazz, ‘Metropolis’ in 1969. He joined the trio ‘Trinity’ with Isao Suzuki and Masahiko Togashi and has played with many visiting American artist such as Freddie Hubbard, Dexter Gordon, Art Blakey, Joe Henderson, and Eddie Gomez. Ichikawa has recorded a number of albums
across many labels and continues to perform to this day.
The youngest member of the group, guitarist Akira Shiomoto was born in Kobe City and moved to Tokyo at the age of 21 where he worked as a regular band at Roppongi’s live house, Birdland. He returned to Kobe before moving back to Tokyo in 1981 and joined the Isao Suzuki Group. Shiomoto can also be heard on albums by Lisa Ono, Takashi Mizuhashi, and Takao Minato and, until 1999, he was also a member of Kisumino Yoshiko Group. In 2009, he moved to Osaka, where he continues to perform.