The stage at Camden Jazz Café in London is a riot of Japanese musicians rocking rainbow-colored boutique hip-hop wear, skater steez, and '70s gangster suits. The saxophonist thrusts his instrument towards all four corners of the crowd before dropping to his knees and soloing his sax like it's an electric guitar. As he finishes, the six-piece band launches into a crescendo of jazz. The drummer roars like an animal, the trumpet ricochets around the stage, and the pimped-out frontman–referred to as "The Agitator"–feels the groove, rocking his head like a believer seized by the spirit and warbling, "Ahhohhhhhahhh! Can you feeeel thisssssss?"
Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seat belts. This is death jazz, as performed by Tokyo's mind-blowing musical collective Soil & Pimp Sessions.
Soil & Pimp annihilates stereotypes, bringing a heavy metal-meets-rock-meets-1980s hip-hop ethic to the jazz arena. Their smash-and-grab, almost kitschy style doesn't dilute jazz tradition; rather, their sublime musicianship–coupled with a youthful, nihilistic approach to playing (they literally thrash their instruments)–gives them the kind of revolutionary rebel status not witnessed since the jazz scene's formative years.
The group started in 2000 in a coffee bar in Roppongi, a hipster district of Tokyo. It was originally a free-for-all titled Soil & Hemp, a jam session for experimental musicians. Saxophonist Motoharu explains. "We knew all these musicians from the hip-hop, rock, Latin, jazz, and reggae scenes. Although people had their specialist area, everyone was open and inspired by a huge range of sounds. Yet the scenes were separate. The sessions were a place where everything could come together freely."
Vital to the night's success was Shacho, a DJ, promoter, and all-around music and style fanatic who, although unable to sing or play, guided the sessions like a guerrilla conductor with his repertoire of emotive shout-outs, ad-hoc instructions ("Break it dooooown," "Oh-yeah-oh-yeah-oh"), and fragmented prose.
Out of these sessions, Soil & Pimp–the hardcore collective of Motoharu, Tabu Zombie (trumpet), Josei (piano), Akita Goldman (bass), Midoryn (drums), and Shacho ("The Agitator")–was born. At their first major gig, Japan's prestigious Fuji Rock Festival, they tore the house down and soon signed to Japanese label Victor Entertainment to release their first album, Pimpin', in June 2004.
UK world music honcho Gilles Peterson came knocking at their door and, soon after championing them on his Radio 1 Worldwide show, he signed Pimp Master (which the band refers to as their first "full album") to his new indie label Brownswood. Amazingly, the album captures the virtuoso anarchy of their live shows, with breakneck tracks like "Avalanche" and "Suffocation" sitting next to more spiritually inspired compositions such as "Waltz For Goddess" and "A Wheel Within a Wheel."
"The album is our feelings, souls, and worlds in sound," says Shacho. "We are music lovers who have grown up being inspired by many different cultures, yet we feel them like they are one and our own."