Album Remarks & Appraisals:
On October 7th (September 2nd in Japan), Takuya Kuroda releases his fourth studio album on Concord Records. The album continues where his last record left off; a strong, genre-bending presence in the worlds of jazz, world and soul. The album features collaboration with the group Antibalas on the track "Think Twice."
Takuya Kuroda's follow-up to his breakthrough 2014 album, Rising Son, 2016's colorful Zigzagger finds the trumpeter digging even deeper into his hip-hop and Afrobeat-influenced jazz sound. Whereas last time Kuroda benefitted from the production of one-time boss and collaborator/singer Jose James, here he mans the production chair himself. It's a bold, if natural choice for the Japan-born/New York-based performer and brings his journey from James' talented sideman to jazz star and captain of his own funk-jazz ship full-circle. Although steeped in acoustic jazz tradition, Kuroda (who studied at both Berklee and the New School) has gravitated toward more jam-oriented sounds in recent years. Blessed with a warm, robust trumpet sound and a knack for delivering lithe, soulful solos that bring to mind both Roy Hargrove and Hugh Masekela, Kuroda is truly a 21st century performer. Another shift from Rising Son is Kuroda's choice to use his longtime backing ensemble, featuring trombonist/vocalist Corey King, keyboardist Takeshi Ohbayashi, bassist Rashaan Carter, and drummer Adam Jackson. It's the same group that appeared on 2012's superb Six Aces, and lends this album a familiarity and interplay that only musicians who've played together for a long time have. Together, Kuroda and his band make a kinetic blend of harmonically rich jazz that's equal parts organic hip-hop, angular post-bop, and buoyant, rhythmically infectious Afro-beat. As if to reinforce the latter, Kuroda also brings on board longstanding New York Afro-beat ensemble Antibalas for the '90s trip-hop-meets-'70s Fela Kuti-sounding "Think Twice." Elsewhere, cuts like the title track, "R.S.B.D.," and "Actor" find Kuroda framing his searching trumpet lines in quivering R&B-style synths, laser-tone bass, and pulse-pounding beats pushed way to the front of the mix. Similarly, on tracks like the bass-heavy "No Sign" and the Maceo Parker-esque "Thirteen," he pulls the groove way back, underlining his hard funk aesthetic with puckered horn lines, loping drum beats, and shimmering wet keyboards. He even takes an inventive approach to jazz balladry, bringing to mind the '70s work of trumpeter Eddie Henderson on his fractured, languidly melodic "Little Words." As the title implies, with Zigzagger, Kuroda continues to push his distinctive jazz-funk explorations in ever more engaging and unexpected directions. ~ Matt Collar