Walk around the stunningly expensive hipster Japanese boutiques in New York’s East Village and Lower East Side and it’s clear the middle- and upper-class Japanese living in the city think about style, much of which is born out of mixing native fashions with greatest hits from America: Jordans, Levis, et al. The media monster that is Tokyo breeds a rabid style-consciousness, and young Japanese are abreast of American trends because of it. Some twenty-five years ago, a young Hideaki Ishi saw Wild Style, and New York’s early-’80s rappers, graffiti writers and break dancers changed his life. He founded Krush Posse in 1987, later graduated to the Mo’Wax label in America, and has released quality albums since. Jaku, Krush’s thirteenth, is an ambitious fusion of his signature bass-heavy production and jungle-y beats paired with traditional Japanese instrumentation.
The marriage of beats to acoustic instruments, played by Japanese masters, isn’t an entirely unique idea: The Thirsty Ear label’s Blue Series has pursued such an avenue over the past few years with several leading jazz players, yielding mixed results. Jaku is consistently successful, if sometimes slightly retro-sounding. Similar to DJ Wally’s Nothing Stays the Same, the beats sound more 1994 than 2004. But good trip-hop still sounds damn good, irrespective of the decade. Jaku‘s elegant fusing of old with new is its point of uniqueness.
"Still Island" is a gorgeous opener, featuring Shuuzan Morita playing what sounds like a soaring wooden flute over Krush’s propulsive, rim-shot-driven beat — the perfect soundtrack to a paranoia-driven walk through the city. "Beyond Raging Waves" similarly nails the noir feel that Krush is pursuing. In fact, all of Jaku contains a cinematic, soundtrack-y feel that fills its niche nicely. This is music for a slow walk over the Manhattan Bridge at night.
Def Jux all-stars Aesop Rock and Mr. Lif make appearances on Jaku, pairing their flows with Krush’s beats for a song apiece. Lif is a disappointment. Obviously attempting to mimic Krush’s eerie atmospherics, "Nosferatu" just sounds flat. Aesop rocks way abstract, as has been his m.o. in the post-Labor Days days, and he zings non-sequitors and metaphors from left field. And it works, largely due to one of Krush’s more banging beats.
But really, despite a dud here and there, it’s the collaborations with traditional Japanese musicians that make this album unique. Krush’s beats may tend toward the ten years past, but Jaku‘s sensibility is straight out of a 1950s noir movie: deliberate, ominous, elegant and often extremely beautiful.