Tokyo Crossover Jazz Festival 2021

DJ, club owner and producer Shuya Okino started the Tokyo Crossover Jazz Festival way back in 2003 as an event literally ‘crossing over’ all the genres of Black American Music, including not only jazz but also funk, soul, hip-hop, disco and house. Held intermittently over the years, the last one was in 2014 so after a seven year break (and almost two years of no large music gatherings at all in Tokyo due to the pandemic), there was a lot of excitement about the return this year of the festival, held at the enormous Ageha club in Shin-Kiba.

Ageha is a venue with not only a large main floor/stage area, but outdoor spaces where there were additional booths set up and a full day’s roster of some of Japan’s best DJs spinning from 2pm through 9:30. The advantage of having the event in a spot like Ageha means that attendees could move freely between the main Arena room, the Island bar near the entrance, the Water and Star areas outside, and the food lane next to the Box tent (which appeared to be playing non-stop disco; I saw one woman who must have been dancing there about three hours without a break). The Island area featured a killer top three of the Tsubaki FM folks (including Masaki Tamura), Mitsu The Beats and DJ Sarasa, while in the Arena superstar DJs Toshio Matsuura and DJ Koco drew huge crowds. Major props to DJ Koco for playing Eric B. & Rakim’s ‘Don’t Sweat The Technique’, which had even me getting up to shake it a little bit at the side of the dance floor.

I spent most my time at the Water area (avoiding the house music coming from the Arena in the being the one genre I just have never enjoyed, apologies to the otherwise master DJ Toshio Matsuura). Appearing at the Water stage were not only the Soul Matters crew but also all the DJs from the long running CHAMP event held at The Room in Shibuya (includong K.O.L. co-programmer DJ Otsuka). CHAMP always bring the finest tunes, and yesterday was no exception as they blasted out Johnny Pate ‘s ‘Shaft In Africa’ among other killer grooves in a two hour session from 5-7pm. Rare-Groove collector and one of the funkiest DJs in Japan, Daisuke Kuroda, closed our the Water area from 7pm. Even the chilly wind coming in from Tokyo Bay didn’t stop people from dancing and imbibing; it felt both strangely comforting to be back at a large music event again, like so many hundreds of times before, and yet also a little strange after such a long break.

Perhaps due to the effects of the pandemic, there were less live performances than in year’s past though the finale at 8pm in the Arena of the Kyoto Jazz Sextet featuring Japanese Jazz veteran Takeo Moriyama on drums was treat. Host Okino-san surprised the audience saying they were recording the session for a future project with Moriyama-san, and then delighted the crowd doing a version of one of Japanese Jazz’ most famous songs, Fumio Itabashi’s ‘Watarase’.

I know a lot of jazz fans who really object to these kinds of events using the word ‘Jazz’ in them, but it’s to Okino-san’s credit that he can synthesize all the diverse strains of Black American Music into an event where fans can then be exposed to strains they may otherwise not be familiar with. After all, probably ten times as many audience members can recognize any famous hip-hop tune as they could ‘Dominoes’ by Donald Byrd, let alone an Art Blakey classic. But once a listener can start to see that this music is all related, their musical pallet starts to expand rapidly. Haven’t heard yet if there will be a TCJF next year but fingers crossed; people with a need for groovy music (like me) will be there.

Mr. OK Jazz

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