One thing I love about Japanese musicians is their unlimited ability to cross the boundaries between musical genres. Though all the bands from the Japanese scene are not equal, I often have good surprises when listening to Japanese bands. This report of Keisho Ohno’s concert could have been named: Traditional Tsugaru Shamisen from Japan meets Jazz.
14.00 … It is a beautiful sunny day! Phone rings… ”- Well I heard about a concert tonight at the Sunset. It’s some Japanese Jazz act… Keisho Ohno, you know him? Would you like to go there? – No, I do not know him, and yes I would be glad to see that! -Ok, see ya around 8 O’clock”
Between 2 boring tasks, I decided to explore the biography and excerpts from the artist’s music. At age 34, Keisho Ohno already has 26 years of practice of the Tsugaru Shamisen that he started learning at 8. Needless to say that Keisho Ohno is considered as a master of the Tsugaru Shamisen, the term referring to both the style and the traditional Japanese musical instrument. He is also known for being an adventurous musician blending many genres with the Tsugaru Shamisen traditional music. All of this seems tasty… I can’t wait to be at the gig.
20.00 … We settled on the tiny chairs of the Sunset. The venue is already busy, and apparently we should not be more than four persons to not know the performing artist! But hey, a life without discovery would be so sad, right? The sound tech is adjusting the final settings, and let’s roll!
For those who don’t know the codes of the Japanese music scene (I have to admit that I’m a rookie with that aspect) you will often be surprised…. I attended several Japanese Pop and Metal concerts, and a fundamental aspect is that the musicians are dressed with style. Appearance is at least as important as the music itself to ensure the show. Keisho’s samuraï look alike dress says a lot about the upcoming gig. So did the trombonist who looked like a mix of a character from a manga, and a jazzman from New York City.
And the music … What about the music? Well, to me it was a pleasant surprise. Keisho Ohno’s music is based on traditional Japanese sounds but it is modern and cosmopolitan. As a matter of fact Keisho’s Jazz is more of a fusion style mixing Rock, Funk, Electronica and Ambient. But it is far from the clichés of a lounge world music that you will listen in your sofa! The Tsugaru Shamisen is a very percussive instrument (it has 3 strings that are played with a plectrum), and Keisho has a groovy and rhythmic approach to it. As it is a fretless instrument you will have to expect some unusual delightful micro-tones. Keisho Ohno’s band played a couple of traditional pieces that show how Japanese music can be deep and introspective. I would have been glad to hear more traditional tunes, yet Keisho’s personal compositions were good enough to make me forget about this. Did I say good enough? Keisho’s compositions are awesome, especially when it comes to rock the place out as he did it with his ultimate cover of James Bond Theme. Though I didn’t know much about his repertoire, I’ve litterally been invited to a journey in his musical world.
That gig was full of rhythm, humor and communication (Keisho speaks French, English and Japanese), and I am glad that I’ve found about Keisho Ohno’s music.
Here is a video containing some excerpts of this concert.