Massively Jazzed

Interview with Kyoto Jazz Massive

by Wesley Chu


People really love these guys. For Gilles Peterson, little did it matter that the Okino brothers had neither an album, history, nor name behind them. Gilles gave them a name and it’s now one with album, history, and name.

Ever since the early ‘90s, Kyoto Jazz Massive, comprised of Okino Shuya and younger brother Okino Yoshihiro, have been building a reputation—a venerable one. After releasing classic 12” Brazilian club jazz stormers and producing a variety of compilations, the brothers did the Kahimi Karie and Jazzanova thing: stalled (and stalled) on an original album debut for what was all too long. With that wait came anticipation and redoubled expectation. With the Kyoto Jazz Massive EP in mid 2001, all the doting anticipation proved deserved as the duo’s soaring collaboration with singer Bebel Gilberto delivered a most glorious moment. But now that Spirit of the Sun, their debut album, has faced all the expectations, emerging from the critical whirlwind with the sunniest of praises—and stunning groovers worldwide—newfound curiosities and questions surface about the two jazzers responsible for all this beautifulness. Which brother is the boss? What are their favorite records? When can we expect the next album…

PopMatters: Why don’t you tell me what you’re in the midst of doing?

Okino Yoshihiro: After a world tour I will be in Osaka. We are in the midst of working on a remix and preparing release for Sleep Walker’s first album.

Okino Shuya: Also preparing Sleep Walker’s first album—and attending the rehearsal for their live gig. Producing a compilation for The Room’s [jazz club founded by Mondo Grosso] 10th anniversary.

PM: I’m curious how you see each other. Shuya, can you describe for me your brother’s personality? And Yoshihiro, can you also do the same for Shuya?

OY: I don’t get to see him often—only when we DJ together as Kyoto Jazz Massive—but we are always in contact. Shuya is very active and loves the busyness of everyday. I think he should take it easy.

OS: Yoshi is a solid person, realistic, and hates to give up things so easily—a true music lover.

PM: Now, can you both describe your own personality? In case you completely disagree with what your brother just said.

OY: I think I am very reserved and like to get things done.

OS: A dreamer.

PM: Is Shuya or Yoshihiro the boss? And why?

OY: Ever since he was born, he is the boss, as an older brother.

OS: I think Yoshi would suggest me for the fact that I am his older brother, but every decision we make, we share our opinion—we discuss every matter together.

PM: What is your working relationship like? Do you have feuds like the stereotypical sibling relationship or is your connection relatively conflict free?

OS: We work very well together.

PM: Shuya, you used to be creative director for Osawa Shinichi and Monday Michiru. How did that come about and why did you later give up that job?

OS: When I encountered their music, I just simply wanted to introduce their wonderful sound to as many people as possible. We all became busy as we gained success independently—and I gave up to focus on my own music production.

PM: Spirit of the Sun—where did the idea for this album title come from?

OS: People may want to interpret the title with Japan equating as the Rising Sun since we are Japanese, but I think the image and symbol of the sun goes far beyond. We are influenced by our surroundings endlessly, everyday. Although we have differences (i.e. history, culture, race, etc.) there is something universal, like the sun shines every day in every world. People connect sun with positive energy. We wanted to have a positive feel in this album.

PM: Were there any difficulties during the recording of this record?

OS: Songwriting: to achieve what we both wanted. We did not want to make an album that is only for dance purposes, but we also wanted to make a quality album that people would actually listen after 10 and 20 years.

PM: How does the songwriting process work for you two? Explain how the process usually unravels and how you both separate the work between one another—basically, who does what?

OS: When I get the melody, inspiration, in my mind, I often call my voice mail and leave/record my humming message there. Our bassist/programmer Ikeda Kenichi programs the rough beats and the bass line. This is how our demo was made first. From then on, Yoshihiro works on the drum programming, while we both work on the melodies. We have a session with our bassist at our place and take the sound material to the studio. There, we collaborate with our keyboardist, Yoshizawa Hajime, and we finalize the arrangement. We, Kyoto Jazz Massive, work with the same musicians: one keyboardist, two bassists, and one saxophone player.

PM: What concept/vision did you have for the album and do you think it was brought to realization?

OS: Our concept is to express the sound style of Kyoto Jazz Massive. I think it came out well.

PM: You both began DJ careers in the late ‘80s, and followed with a few singles and numerous remixes in the ‘90s. Did you feel like veterans by the time you worked on this album or did you have trepidation of what was to come because you’ve never done a proper album before?

OS: We knew we would not be recognized until we release a proper full-length album. Therefore, this is just a beginning for us.

PM: What artists and styles affected the sound of the album?

OS: ‘70s and ‘80s jazz-fusion, broken beats, and techno-house.

PM: I’m familiar with all the guests and crew on the album except for Naitou Yoshiko. Who is she?

OS: She is a girlfriend of Yoshihiro (who also works for Especial Records store in Osaka) and involved in songwriting with him during the process of production—she plays an important role for KJM as well.

PM: Concerning future albums to come: I truly hope Kyoto Jazz Massive has a fast turn-around time like most acts in the Japanese music industry. How long should we expect to wait for the next album and any chance you’re already dreaming up ideas for it?

OS: Hopefully 2004. Idea is still open.

PM: Some decades ago, Japanese jazz musicians such as the great Akiyoshi Toshiko faced prejudices simply because they were Japanese—that they were not black, therefore they were not the “real” thing. I’ve asked Nozaki Ryota (Jazztronik) and Monday Michiru about this. I wonder if you feel like you have to fight against such farcical notions of authenticity and stereotypes that still exists to some degree?

OS: Recently I was asked in an interview—what do I think about the notion that Japanese music is a copy of western music? Some aspect, I cannot fully deny the notion. Many Japanese artists do include a western essence, copying their style, and remaking it for the Japanese audience. People are simply influenced by others and I think when people are so touched maybe it is innate to assimilate…Also, I wish people realized that Japanese too have “real” sentiment/expression in music (just like American blues or Brazilian saudade), called “se-tsu-na-i” or “se-tsu-na-sa.”

PM: Can you both list for me your Top 5 Favorite Artists of all time?

OY: Azymuth, Pharaoh Sanders, Roy Ayers, Stevie Wonder, Nakamura Teruo.

OS: Harry Whitaker, Herbie Hancock, Hubert Eaves, Lonnie Liston Smith, Yoshizawa Hajime.

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