Friday, August 28, 2009

All That Jazz

August is a glorious month in Japan. For all of us English teacher's, we get 2 weeks off to recharge, relax and do whatever it is we please. Most of my friends made a mad dash for the airport and headed to a variety of countries. From Thailand to Peru my peoples were exploring the ends of the Earth.

I, however, took a different approach to the vacay. Instead of joining the exodus, I chose to stay at the crib and focus on a few areas of life I felt needed a little more attention. Most notably, my Japanese!!

A partial motivation to do so (stay home) was provided by a good friend of mine, Reuben Rogers. Reuben's a world class upright bass player who takes the art to places most could not imagine. It just so happened, he was bringing out a trio to play 5 nights here in Tokyo.

There's a legendary venue in Omotesando called Body and Soul that is celebrating it's 30th anniversary. As part of the celebration Reuben's crew was joined by a different Japanese artist 3 of the 5 nights. And all I can say is, I wish they stayed for 10!

Amidst all my hip-hop pursuits and club nights I've seemed to have lost the part of my self that took the time out to enjoy the frequency that is Jazz. Oddly enough, I listened to it more when I was 16 than I do now. Perhaps it's fear of aging! I can't call it. But I'll tell you this, the 4 nights I spent at Body and Soul were absolutely cathartic.

I've found that there are times that I don't even know something is wrong with me until I experience what is right. This was certainly the case here in Omotesando. Simply put, these brothas hold a space. You have no choice but to dismiss all the typcial trains of thought when in the presence of Masters.

Not only were they supremely present, but they also evoked an array of emotions from composition to composition that was absolutely chilling. There were times I wanted to cry, times I wanted to dance, and everything in between.

As moving as it all was, I must say, the pieces composed by Eric Harland, the drummer, held a special place for me. The only way I could describe them is he 'takes you to church.' The beauty with Jazz is, there are so many dynamics criss-crossing and weaving in and out of each other that a lot of times I didn't see it (the soul) coming til those chords dropped and "BLOW!" Smacked me in the bone marrow!

Involuntarily, my face got stuck on ugly. You know that face you make when a sound is so raw that it penetrates all self consciousness and consumes your very being. Yeah, THAT one. They took me there early and often. Combine that with the nostalgia factor that had me recounting my days in church pews where people caught the holy ghost at the mere tickling of ivory keys, and yes, my friends, you've got the making of musical magic.

Meanwhile, the musician in me was sponging their every move. Attempting to interpret their unspoken language. Catch a glance or a smile that had implications far beyond the obvious. Often times I felt spot on in my observations, others I was left guessing. "Why did he just say 'Uh!'?" "What are they laughing at?" "Did he know he was going to do that?" It was a wonderful game of "Mindreader!"

The icing for me was being able to kick it with the guys after the show. Occasionally I'd ask about something I thought was happening and get confirmation or humbled depending on the answer.

Aside from the music, the atmosphere was just right. It called forth a higher state of being. I can't describe how good it felt to be around grown folks, doing grown things!

And at a time when I was praying for some much needed focus and inspiration in my life, the Reuben Rogers Trio delivered...and then some.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Summer Summer Summertime!

Summer is in full swing here in Tokyo. It seems like every neighborhood I pass through has some kind of festival or celebration going on. It's been quite an exciting shift in energy to see so many people out and about and interacting.

It all kicked off about 3 weeks ago when a friend of mine invited me over to his place to catch the fireworks. Unlike the usual fireworks displays in the states, (Santa Cruz not included) Japanese shows last for a good hour and a 1/2. People forewarned me, but I was still astonished to see just how long they keep em coming.

The fireworks, however, are only part of the entertainment. Male and females alike turn out in what they call Yukattas. (sp) Prior to attending the show I'd been mistaking these outfits for kimonos. But a friend of mine pointed out there are far fewer layers to these leisurely get ups.

I can't really describe the electricity in the air, but there was certainly a great deal of anticipation in the air as hoards of people were all flocking in the same direction. It reminded me a lot of the night of the free Rolling Stones concert we caught down in Rio De Janeiro. The whole city seemed to be walking in the same direction. Add to that the traditional attire, and you've got the setting of some authentic Japanese style celebrating!

Oh...did I forget to mention drinking?!? Please believe the one constant at any gathering out here is drankin! I don't know if there's any other place on the planet where you can buy "Chu-hi's" but if you happen to be in one, make a mad dash for the convenient pronto! They're sort of like a hard lemonade, but they also come in grapefruit. And they sneak up on you something serious! It only took me twice to find my bearings with them. They taste so good you don't even realize how potent they are. Til the next thing you know, you're feeling a little happier than you're supposed to be. CHU-HI's!! Remember the name...and don't say I didn't warn you!

But back to the fireworks, I made my way to the Sumida River where they had two launch sites. Just so happened my man lived in the neighborhood and he invited a whole crew of international folks out to check em from his roof. The show itself was...aiiiiight. I wouldn't say I had my breath taken away or anything. But I couldn't tell if that was because were on rooftop with a good amount of distance between us and the launch points, or if it was just the duration of the show that kind of dulled the senses. An Hour and a Half!

We got into at-length conversations about all types a meaningless topics, before being reminded by an "Oooooo" that we were supposed to be looking at the sky and not each other. It was cool though.. To say the least.

A few days later, I was riding my bike to Yoyogi park around 7:30-8 at night when I rounded a corner and BAM! Was smack dab in the middle of a quaint little neighborhood festival. There was about a block or so of people dressed up and doing a traditional dance to some seemingly ancient music. I smiled at the sheer randomness of the entire affair. It was one of those moments that really drove home the occasionally elusive truth that I LIVE IN JAPAN! Somehow I manage to forget this from time to time.

Needless to say, Summer is in full swing and this is just a pre-cursor for Oban! Details to follow.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Black is Beautiful

Please pardon any racist implications, but I cannot speak on behalf of the others. All I know is, it is absolutely beautiful to be a black man!

As I sat on the train today, half awake, half zombied out. I looked through the window at the opposite platform and caught a glimpse of a brother, awaiting his train. The angle prevented eye-contact, so I leaned over to see if he was on 'the frequency' and sure enough he was. Gave the nod, lifted his hand, and gave it that chest pump. I, instinctually, returned the nod.

Simple as it may seem, it changed my entire day. It really just lifted my spirits and put my mind in the right place for at least the next 18 seconds ;)

This made me think back to yesterday, when I was leaving Yoyogi Park. Fresh off of hoopin, I stopped and had a spontaneous chat with a guy from Senegal. There was really no Divine inspiration behind it. But it was more of an understood courtesy to acknowledge one another and share a moment, as opposed to rudely riding by and acting as if we don't see the connection.

And I'm not so ignorant to exclude people from this sort of connection. I have certainly had spontaneous convos with people from a variety of backgrounds. But there's just that thing. I can't quite put it into words (although I'm trying) That is really so cool, about being, if not Black, at the very least AWAKE! And taking the time to acknowledge that in those passing by.

Life is Good. And Tokyo continues to align just the right moments!