Brooklyn-based trumpeter and composer Takuya Kuroda is adding the title of beat maker to his resume, finding inspiration in the production chair on his new album Fly Moon Die Soon. Born as a solo bedroom production project, later adding live musicians, the new album is a logical next step for the talented Kuroda.
From Kobe, Japan, Kuroda arrived in New York a dozen years ago to study at The New School. There, he met singer and songwriter Jose James, whose band Kuroda began to make an impression. James calls his friend's music "soulful, modern, and effortlessly bridges the gap between jazz and soul, and between history and tomorrow."
After a pair of well-received, self-released albums, Takuya Kuroda made his debut with Blue Note records in 2014 with Rising Son. The Zigzagger album followed in 2016 for Concord Records. (This is Takuya Kuroda's debut for the First Word Records label.)
Both of those early albums were intelligent fusions of jazz-hip-hop, burning with cool intensity and filled with catchy hooks. Kuroda's band for both albums includes trombonist Corey King. Their brassy combination brought a bright warmth to cool, sharp production.
Kuroda includes King and several other players for Fly Moon Die Soon, but the origins of songs were meticulously pieced together alone in his home studio. He says it took two years to complete, but six months into the pandemic, an album born of isolation feels appropriate. It also sounds great.
Corey King's vocal contributions have increased, he sings on both of the soulful summer singles. "Change" and "Fade" are both ripe for fans of R&B who enjoy jazz, or jazz lovers who dig some R&B. Kuroda's arranging and songwriting are the focus, though he supplies excellent solos for both.
Kuroda welcomes young singer Alina Engibaryan on a cover of the Ohio Players' funk hit "Sweet Sticky Thing" (renamed "Sweet Sticky Things" for this album). She takes the playful lyrics straight, emphasizing the catchy melody, and scats to a faded ending. Kuroda's trumpet solo here is jocular and direct.
If you loved Roy Hargrove's collaborations with soul star D'Angelo, you'll love these songs.
Herbie Hancock's continued influence on modern jazz fusion emerges on a wonderfully fresh version of his song "Tell Me a Bedtime Story." The production is sharp and modern, soulful and warm. Kuroda's trumpet more than equals the trumpet and flute combo from the original late 60s recording. Takeshi Ohbayashi is up to the task of filling Hancock's big shoes on keyboards, enjoying a mellow solo and adding various electronic atmospherics.
To my jazz-loving ears, the "letter songs" are the heart and soul of Fly Moon Die Soon. Takuya Kuroda finds a thrilling balance of complex and detailed production with intelligent songwriting, precise arrangements, and electrifying improvisation.
"ABC" leads with a barrage of percussion from Keita Ogawa and Satoshi Yoshida's funky rhythm guitar, then kicks into an Afro-beat mode with Kuroda's trumpet and Craig Hill's sax blowing a serpentine melody.
The momentum never lets up, and launches Kuroda into a dazzling Hargrove-esque solo. Hill's solo follows, seeming to take up the challenge of the bandleader's statement. Both players utilizing a rhythmic style to match the unrelenting pace. It's one of a handful of musical thrillers weighed against some tasty chill-out tempos on Fly Moon Die Soon.
The album closer "TKBK" opens in an electronic setting, with samples of train announcements and friendly city chatter leading to a deep, mid-tempo groove. Trumpet and trombone state a punchy, regal theme. New wavey keyboards rise and fall, and the tempo shifts slightly to expand on the motif before setting up for a bright, optimistic solo from Kuroda.
Next, Kuroda and guest Paola Arcieri join voices to give lyrics to "TKBK"s main riff. It's a party song of a sort, generating that now-rare feeling of hanging out with friends. The song's ending returns to the beginning, with the sounds of laughing friends ("let's get outta here, man...") amidst sampled train station ambience.
There's a lot for modern jazz fans to love on this new effort from Kuroda, focused on the crossroads of jazz, hip-hop and soul. Even within an album meticulously constructed in the studio setting, Kuroda has found a contemporary sound that still carries that human, conversational jazz essence.
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