Thursday, October 18, 2007

Happy Sounds

For some reason, many jazz writers have a misery fetish. Biographers regularly glorify their subject’s down-and-out periods, and often gloss over the artist’s happy and productive years. A recent Downbeat review even criticized a very good big band session for sounding too happy. I don’t really get that. Miho Nobuzane celebrated the release of her new CD Make You Happy at the Kitano last night, and as the title suggests, she played largely upbeat, buoyant music, that swung nicely, and that was a good thing.

Nobuzane does seem to have a talent for penning fresh originals that convey a sense of optimism, like her title composition (parts 1 & 2 heard in the first set), for instance. The exuberant vibe makes sense though, as some compositions were inspired by her young son. New York City itself also seems to be a source of inspiration, as reflected by her originals “212” and “Brooklyn Bridge.” There was of course some variance in tone, like on the thoughtful trio feature “Ray.” Overall though, it was an invigorating, and yes, happy sounding set.

Nobuzane’s Brazilian group has a great sound and plays cohesively together. Jorge Continentino in particular contributed some impressive solos on tenor and flute. Nobuzane herself is in inventive soloist, showing a strong touch on the keys. Adriano Santos on drums and Gustavo Amarante make up a good rhythm section with Nobuzane, but at times Amarante’s electric bass sounded a little muddy through the sound system. In general though, the Kitano is great venue, with a honestly friendly staff.

Playing the blues is a central element of jazz, and that certainly implies a certain emotional spirit. However, swing is as much a part of jazz as the blues, which suggests a countervailing jauntiness. No critic would question the necessity of swing in jazz, so one wonders why “happy” is a dirty word for them. Regardless, they should respect Nobuzane as a composer and pianist.