For 2 Akis is the ECM debut for a Japanese-French-German trio with a lyrical sound of its own. Drummer-leader Shinya Fukumori, also the principal composer for the band, is an imaginative melodist at several levels, and the attention to timbre and detail and space which distinguishes his drumming is also reflected in the colour-fields of his free-floating ballads, and his adaptations and arrangements of Japanese songs. The spaciousness of the music leaves room for expression to tenorist Matthieu Bordenave and pianist Walter Lang. Bordenave has a deceptively fragile tenor tone, of considerable emotional impact, and Lang is a very subtle player, patiently shoring up the whole context. Together the three players have created something special and new.
Shinya Fukumori, born in Osaka in 1984, played violin, piano and guitar before taking up drums at 15. Two years later he moved to the US, studying at Brookhaven College and the University of Texas at Arlington, completing his formal musical education at Boston’s Berklee College. After playing a great deal of in-the-tradition jazz and powering a number of big bands, he says that he found himself yearning for “something more floating. I wanted more dialogues.” Exposure to Keith Jarrett’s My Song album led to an interest in ECM’s recordings and in diverse European approaches to improvisational music-making. He cites Ketil Bjørnstad’s The Sea and Eberhard Weber’s Silent Feet as particular inspirations. Determining that he would one day record for ECM and work with Manfred Eicher, he decided to move to Munich “without knowing anyone at all in Europe” at that time.
To prepare for the move he went back to Osaka for a while, where he was encouraged by the “two Akis” of the title track, both of them at Interplay 8, a jazz club with a long history, which once provided support for the young Yosuke Yamashita when few others were listening. Shinya Fukumori: “They believed in me and my music, and took care of me until I left for Europe. ‘For 2 Akis’ was one of the first rubato-type compositions I wrote, and among the first pieces that the trio played together. We feel it really represents the group.”
It was also in Osaka that Shinya first heard Walter Lang, when the Swabian pianist was there with his own trio. “Walter is somewhat known in Japan, and so I went to his concert, and fell in love with the simple but strong and unique melodies in his playing.”
At a jam session in Munich, Shinya got to play with French saxophonist Matthieu Bordenave: “I loved his tone, and we’ve developed a really close connection in the music. His approach and playing are like floating on a river. Both Walter and Matthieu really appreciate Japanese culture, and with their support I feel very confident in the music.”
Each of the musicians contributes fine-spun pieces to the trio repertoire, and on For 2 Akis Shinya has also brought in Japanese pieces of the Shōwa era (1926-89) which have a special resonance for him: “One of the most important music forms of this period is Shōwa Kayō, the folk/pop music of the Shōwa era. After World War II, when the country was very poor, people would sing folk songs – sometimes to forget about their situation, or to cry over it. Music was a way to escape from the reality, but at the same time to be aware of it. Although the sound is completely different, the way the music has influenced the people is equivalent, in my mind, to American blues. The folk songs of the period are usually very sad and nostalgic, and the music still touches our hearts. My parents and grandparents sang these songs. So I basically grew up listening to Shōwa Kayō.
“I always wanted to create music using Shōwa elements, so I started arranging Shōwa folk songs for the trio in the style of European improvisational music with my own voice. It’s worked out well, and leaves so much space in the music…”
The album begins and ends with Kenji Miyazawa’s “Hoshi Meguri No Uta” (“The Star-Circling Song”). Poet, author, farmer, and cellist Miyazawa (1896-1933), perhaps best-known for his surreal children’s books, wrote few songs. This one says Shinya “has an atmosphere of mystical space. I feel close to his works and the world he creates in his writings and music.”
One of the much-loved songs of the Shōwa period is “Ai San San” written by Kei Ogura (born 1944) and made famous by legendary diva Hibari Misora (1937-89). Matthieu Bordenave wrings a lot of feeling from its melody in the trio’s interpretation.
For Western jazz listeners the most familiar song here may be “Kojo No Tsuki” by Rentaro Taki: Thelonious Monk performed this piece (as “Japanese Folk Song”) on his Straight, No Chaser album. Shinya: “Every Japanese child learns this song at school. The melody of the song is very Japanese, so it stands out and still sounds very authentic even though I have re-harmonized it and arranged it.” Shinya Fukumori incorporates the piece into his “Light Suite” here, and it segues into his own compositions.
The other “cover version” here, “Mangetsu No Yube” (“Full Moon Night”), written by Takashi Nakagawa and Hiroshi Yamaguchi after the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995, is a song of hope for dark times. “It’s important for me to play the song to remember,” says Shinya. “Plus, I just want to play the music because it’s a beautiful song.”
The Shinya Fukumori Trio is a Munich-based band – actually the first Munich-based jazz group on ECM since the Mal Waldron Trio of the early 1970s – and all three of its members are leaders in their own right, active on the local scene as well as internationally. Walter Lang has extensive experience of playing duos with Lee Konitz (which led last autumn to Konitz guesting with Matthieu Bordenave’s quartet, with Shinya on drums). Bordenave, furthermore, leads the group Grand Angle with Peter Omara, Henning Sieverts and Shinya Fukumori, and plays duos with guitarist Geoff Goodman.
For 2 Akis was recorded at Studios La Buissonne in the South of France in March 2017, and produced by Manfred Eicher.