By the mid 70s, America’s jazz craze was merely a dwindling memory. Since its creative peak in the late 50s, Americans had witnessed the creation of rock, funk, and soul, which had overtaken jazz as the most popular forms of music. The genre had simply been pushed and pulled in too many directions, struggling to keep up with the times.
Even the finest musicians of the previous decade were struggling to stay relevant among the new generation, fusing jazz with popular music in order to continue their commercial success.
Miles Davis dove deeply into
The increasingly experimental nature of jazz in the 1970s was enthralling but ultimately lead to further disconnect from a mainstream audience, who looked for danceable styles of music. And artistically, the genre had its back against the wall.
Outside of America, however, jazz still had hope.
In Japan, the movement was still gaining traction, with hints of fusion barely beginning to appear. By 1976, however, one of the finest albums of the decade was released to little acclaim in America – Scenery. Ryo Fukui, a
Although Fukui was among the few Japanese jazz artists that has gained a following, he was far from the first in the country’s history. Japan’s brief obsession with jazz began to build slowly after the conclusion of World War II, as American culture was slowly accepted in the country. Government officials attempted to ban jazz in the 1940s, citing it as “music of the enemy”. But as American troops increased their presence in Japan, their music began to spread as well. They grew tired of the nations traditional music, wishing their danceable
Some American musicians toured the South Pacific (most famously swing clarinetist Artie Shaw) but there was only so much music to go around. Demand for jazz in Japan increased and naturally, the number of jazz musicians skyrocketed.
Following the war, Japanese musicians kept performing, ironically popularizing a genre established in a country which had just been one of Japan’s greatest enemies. Growing up in this new
Scenery begins with “It Could Happen To You”, an original hard bop take on a piece made famous by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra (among many others) in the mid 40s. It builds slowly from a serene, calming introduction to a furious, upbeat tune which would make any pianist proud. Beautiful piano solos surround the chorus, which sound like they came straight out of a cool jazz Charlie Brown soundtrack from the decade before.
Next, Fukui tackles “I Want to Talk About You”, a standard originally performed by John Coltrane on his solo debut in 1958. It’s a tranquil work of modal jazz which is a perfect transition from the previous
The album reaches a crescendo by “Early Summer”, a heavier, more
It’s chaotic – yet never feels forced, like many of the other
After two more beautiful modal pieces, the album concludes with “Scenery”, from which the album takes its name. Fukui creates some sharper, more precise piano work, as opposed to the previous two, which rely on more smooth, legato melodies. It’s a perfect blend of the two styles present on the album – meshing the upbeat, jovial nature of the first half with the more solemn, slow elements towards the end of the second half. As the album comes to a close, Fukui provides perfect, calming exit music, letting listeners know the album that their time together is almost up.
While members of the