Akisai: Colors

More than any release in the Schole catalogue, Akisai's Colors invites the ‘smooth jazz' label. And while its ten instrumentals encompass a wide stylistic spectrum, from delicate ballads to exuberant uptempo jams, all exude a consistent emotional quality: joy. No storm clouds darken Akisai's horizons, and despair is foreign to the world presented on the forty-seven-minute release. Akisai, by the way, is a Tokyo-based audio-visual project comprised of Koichi Nakaie and Yo Suzuki, Nakaie the group's graphic designer and visual artist and Suzuki the classically trained multi-instrumentalist (guitar, bass, drums, piano, organ, trumpet, flute, electronics) responsible for the group's sounds. Electronics and field recordings are used to sweeten the tracks, but Colors is generally natural and acoustic in character. Needless to say, it's Suzuki whose contributions are the ones showcased on their debut recording, with Nakaie's brought to life in Akisai's video and live presentations.

The opener “Line” exudes an irrepressibly sunny quality in its sing-song melodies and bounce, while the lilting, nature-based reverie “Flow” presents the group's serene side. The group's pop-jazz leanings come to the fore during “Synchrotonica,” which sees sparkling acoustic guitar and piano patterns accompanied by an uptempo groove that hurtles forward at a breakneck pace. At such moments, it's easy to hear Akisai's music as vaguely similar to the uplifting kind associated with The Pat Metheny Group. It's hardly the only such moment either, as much the same could be said of “Theory” and “Phase.” Elsewhere, “Biotopia” adds a different wrinkle to the release in wedding piano and acoustic guitar to glockenspiel and shaker percussion elements, and Suzuki's trumpet chops get a good workout on the jazzy “Eternitica.”

Melodious and harmonious, Akisai's music is easy to warm up to, packed as it with catchy pop melodies, swinging rhythms, and rich instrumental interplay. Throughout the disc, Suzuki proves himself to be a musician of no small ability, with his acoustic guitar and piano playing pitched at a high level. And while it's not all that uncommon these days for a musician to credibly simulate an ensemble through the use of multi-tracking and digital production techniques, Suzuki does an especially good job of creating the impression of a full group sound. In fact, the simulation of live playing within “Memoment” is so convincing one visualizes a full band playing in concert, with soulful soloing by the acoustic guitarist and organist punctuated by the funky backing of a horn section.

June 2014