Tuesday, November 25, 2008


BeatNuts' record debut illustrates a refreshing sound; vivacious, energetic and eclectic as each musician packs its own prowess and passion for the instrument, especially its lead sax man, Mitsuru Kanekuni.

Not to be confused with some New York-based hip-hop group The Beatnuts, this electrifying self-proclaimed "Japanese Instrumental Jazz Rock Latin Band" sextet (more commonly) known (in Japan) as "BeatNuts" has finally released their first studio mixed album after years of touring as a group of pro musicians in the homeland Japan since 2000. Courtesy of a much needed record deal with Columbia Music Entertainment, just last week their nine-track effort proves to be a gushing success for any fan of jazz and its edgier fusion sub-genres.

You might've heard their samplings on their MySpace or on their sax man, Mitsuru Kanekuni's website, the six man band of "over fifty years old and keepin' grooving" members consists of lead by firey sax and flute man Mitsuru Kanekuni, Yasuhiko Fukuda (Keyboards), Akira Suzuki (Guitar), Noboru Takasugi (Percussion), Masayuki Higuchi (Drums), Masahiko Rokukawa (Bass).

With his primary Tenor Sax (and by mention of his site, a choice Selmer Mark VII Super Action 80), Kanekuni has been known to me for a number of years as an inspiration to obsess over the saxophone for his masterful, obsessively rich, soulful tone ever since I first heard him blow on a couple Meldac label game arrange albums including "Double Dragon II" and more so his unforgettable performances on little known videogame arranged gem from 1990 "V'BALL" where his solos made for a complete package.

On POWER ZONE, Kanekuni's sound is able to flourish aside from his other instrumental talents and excellent windwood tones as he plays flute and an array of saxes from his weapon-of-choice Tenor, but also Soprano and even a little rythmic Baritone on the album's opener.

No more than halfway through, Power Zone fulfills as a power house, laying down an impressive demo of BeatNuts' nearly decade-long career. It all begins with "Skip Onodera", conga percussion lead the way for an outstanding lead Tenor by Kanekuni, fans have come to know his unique, passionate stylings from here on out. "Celtic Waltz" has Kanekuni put his saxes down for some outstanding jazz flute, and an impressive performance throughout.

From there on out, the upbeat sound BeatNuts grooves with seldomly slows down with energy and passionate work by the band but mostly its stars Kanekuni and Suzuki, often working in lead concert.

"Blue Bullet" is a smooth, cool down piece as Kanekuni melts with his sultry, seductive Tenor sound, conversing with Akira Suzuki's electrifying Robben Ford-style bluesy-jazz licks.

"Gogatsu No May" (translating to Mei of May) a bubbly, yet jovial tune nicely envelopes with Suzuki's solo work intertwined with soprano sax-lead and accompanied solos.

"Zone" turns over, opening with a more hardrock-tinged performance with Suzuki grinding when not paired in performance with Kanekuni's rock-style Tenor playing as does "BeatNuts", a self-titled track that engages their unpredictable, rock-leaning fusion style.

The disc ends off with their softest pieces yet, a flute-and-piano hypnotizing piece before a explosive etude into-the-sunset of guitar and heroic Tenor Sax in "Honoo No Athlete" (translating to "Athlete of Flame") and "Tender Touch", and a tune that has Kanekuni displaying his sunnyside Soprano against a easy-like-Sunday morning conga drum, acoustic rhythm pace.

From latin, to rock, hard to often bluesy licks and growling jazz sax, BeatNuts has a colorful, fun flare and variant to fusion-jazz, with each track each with its own value as its cover art leads with a rainbow explosion of sounds in jazz-tinged sub-genres. The sound, may not be for everyone, as J-Fusion employs a different sound than western smooth jazz with its often plush, "gamey" tracks. Ultimately, it's a cleanly mastered album with nice rich studio live sounds for each of its band members to show off.

Power Zone leaves me sad: the nine-track journey is over too soon but the tracks keep building appeal long after listening. If only they could've polished and thrown on a few from their MySpace page, the ones that made the cut are contenders for potential classics for those who enjoy sounds of T-Square, Casiopea, Dimension or others in the J-Fusion sphere, while offering something different and a true display of Kanekuni's astounding playing. It's a shame it took this long for an album deal, perhaps the group will engender more of a demanding following, enough to see another work soon over the horizon. With each track it's own rich flavor, stunning sax work by Kanekuni, there's no reason not to consider this crowning first record achievement.


Hold-Up Take:
Shuffler In The Dark employs what we call a "Hold-Up Take" method, which seeks to review retake the album at sometime down the road to see how it holds up to time and possible initial impression bias. Stay Tuned!

A Final Note For Overseas Buyers: The album is only available in Japan, so you'll be making an import purchase via one of the websites below.

Buy and/or hear samples at these fine retailers: HMV Japan, Tower Japan, Play-Asia


1. Skip Onodera
2. Hey Brian
3. Celtic Waltz
4. Blue Bullet
5. Gogatsu No May
6. Zone
7. BeatNuts
8. Honoo No Athlete
9. Tender Touch

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