Nettai Tropical Jazz Big Band
La Noche Tropical






La Noche Tropical is the fifth studio album by bongo player and vocalist Carlos Kanno’s Japanese 18-piece ensemble called the Nettai Tropical Jazz Big Band, released in 2001 on the big electronic manufacturer JVC's record label. Ten tracks – technically 13 – wait to be discovered by the listener, with a Tito Puente medley, four unique songs, a live cut and a rendition of a Michael Jackson classic adding enough variety to live up to the Exotica connoisseur’s expectation, even though there is no dedicated genre piece on the album as is the case on the band’s second LP September (1999) where a downright gorgeous take on Ted Grouya’s Flamingo is delivered. Anyway, fans of the Nettai Tropical Jazz Big Band know what to expect of – and love about – the album: a typically Japanese interpretation of that Latin spirit.


The horns are much silkier and shimmer in brighter colors than it is usually the case. Melodies are carved out more clearly, not just in the renditions of Pop standards, but in the band’s own songs as well. Only pianist Salt Shionoya, otherwise known as the leader of the Super Salt Band, adds the archetypical Latinisms. In addition, there are of course comparably labyrinthine entanglements as well. But these are, I believe, embraceable, especially so since they offer the opportunity for the oscillating surfaces and changing patterns to shine. Here is a closer look at La Noche Tropical, which is often said to be created by a band called the Tropical Jazz Orchestra; a mixture of omitted hiragana and wrong translations can be blamed for this error, but this is only a side note to the things to come.


Haroldo Barbosa‘s and Luis Carlos ReisCara De Payaso is unleashed right at the beginning, and what a superb opener it is. Carlos Kanno himself sings the vocals in the spotlight, surrounded by those benign horn helixes that are usually exclusively delivered by Japanese musicians only. The piano is prototypically Latin, the cowbells gleam in silver colors, but boy, the brass euphony is even glorifying by Exotica standards! The good mood is indestructible, making Cara De Payaso a premium rendition of an ode to that certain woman in one’s life.


Nica’s Dream follows. Originally envisioned by Horace Silver, the show tune aorta is ameliorated by Crime Jazz cloudlets and dun-colored histrionic brass cavalcades. The midtempo prevents the arrangement from being linked to car chases or similar sceneries, but the dualistic state between golden warmth and shadier segues is cleverly transformed in this arrangement. Carlos Kanno, Michiaki Tanaka and Cosmos Kapitza beat the bongos, all the while Manteru Nonoda’s tenor saxophone plays in front of the melodramatic trumpet bursts. A blue-chip piece whose mood cannot be pinpointed. Maybe it can, but I lack the skill to narrow it down to an easy formula. Another superb follow-up and definitely not as convoluted as it may seem.


The third time’s the charm, and this is also applicable to the band’s third tune which is the aforementioned transmutation of Michael Jackson’s late 70’s anthem Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough. The band loves to interweave Pop material in their Latin albums, and so the King of Pop saw his grand piece Latinized as well. The Nettai Tropical Jazz big Band actually launches this piece in medias res, with the three-note synth cascades of Jackson’s original being the starting point, naturally realized here via brass stabs. Staggering kettle drums, dirty saxes, tohubohu trombones, toasted gibberish as well as Getao Takahashi’s funky bass guitar solo round off a breakneck interpretation supercharged with polymorphous rhythms, gleaming effulgence and injected improvisations. Splendid!


Alma Eterna is the first unique piece by the combo of 18 players, a downbeat concrete jungle with softly illumined brass silkiness that occasionally turns into dazzling protrusions as well as nocturnal piano placentas and a slowly growing percussion thicket which accentuates the neon-lit finale. Alan Jay Lerner’s and Frederick Lowe’s I Could Have Danced All Night then invites the listener to another moonlit night in the city. Carlos Kanno grabs the mic again and is accompanied by parallax layers of horns, with every stratum being enmeshed with each other. The effect creates plasticity and wideness during the instrumental parts. In addition, paradisal flutes and a Latin mockup of the male backing singers create a Brazilian evening par excellence.


Two additional pieces from the feather of the band follow: 11pm is the first stereotyped but delicate Jazz piece with those typical bass billows, convoluted piano accents and ever-spiraling horn coils which altogether suggest that one rather concentrates on the unfolding of the textures rather than searching for melodies which are only injected few and far between the interstices, whereas El Morro succeeds with its feeling of thermal heat and pleasant anticipation – or tension rather. The piano sparkles in strange colors, the brass layers appear more sunset-colored and ruddier than before, as if this was only the calm before the storm. The storm does not really come, the song remains hued in twilight. Highlights are the mosquito-like brass sinews (Martin Denny’s infamous Tse Tse Fly from 1959 comes to mind!) and the enigmatic piano flumes.


Up next is another highlight, one of the most often-interpreted tunes of all time: Monty Norman’s eternal 007 James Bond Theme. If you expect staccato brass stabs that lead to bleeding wounds, you get half of the idea, for the other half comprises of little alternative notes that snuck into the theme. The melody is still highly recognizable and unmistakably Bond-related, but there are bass guitar splinters, bongo intermissions and paths that lead away from Norman’s original vision. Cinematic and Latinized, this rendition is not as timeless as the original, but a great addition to the wave of similar interpretations. The album closes with a six and a half minutes long medley of four Tito Puente songs, followed by a live performance. Para Tio Tito is boldly Latin and amicable due to its sun-dappled piano undulation, Ran Kan Kan seemingly connects to this scene and unchains various “can can” chants, the great Oye Come Va is a slick city peace with a laid-back rhythm and Dance Mania enthralls with aqueous piano droplets, a euphonious brass shrapnel and one hell of a breakneck tempo.


The actual finale comprises of said live performance called Eleven, another unique Nettai piece envisioned by Carlos Kanno. Its name is inspired by its runtime of eleven minutes. Multitudinous cowbells, kettle drums and congas form the base frame for surprisingly crepuscular yet warmhearted piano tones, jazzy brass whirlwinds to die for as well as warbled flutes. Cavalcades of percussion prowess and related solos round off a long-winded vignette that relies as much on improvisation as on interdependence. Distant cheers and close chants show that the band delivers everything the attending fan base desires.


Latin albums do not necessarily equal Exotica albums, but South American percussion sure does play a big role in the genre, and it so happens that it ennobles many an exotic work as well. La Noche Tropical is a clinking artifact in this regard, which is no surprise at all, given the fact that Carlos Kanno is as skilled a bongo player as he is able to sing the lyrics of a few songs. The best feature of all Nettai Tropical Jazz Big Band albums is the wonderful Japanese spirit that wafts through the interstices. This does not translate to Far Eastern tone sequences or Asian instruments; you will not hear shakuhachi flutes or koto twangs. Still, the Japanese flavor of Latin constructions is pinpointable throughout the album, mostly so during the opener Cara De Payaso which boosts its already vivacious aura via sun-warmed horns that display that certain euphony. Owners of old Yamaha keyboards with accompanying presets might sense what I am referring to, for the silkiness and affirmation of life are also embroidered in these settings. There is not much room for quasi-lamenting Latin tones.


Compositions like El Morro and the designedly melodramatic 007 James Bond Theme inherit an aural cinematography, but do not comprise of those besotted, lovestoned and yearning tones everyone links to Latin music. The most striking Latinism is engraved by Salt Shionoya’s piano shrubbery, but it is perfectly alloyed by the girdling warmth. One negative aspect comes to mind though: La Noche Tropical does not fully live up to its title which explicates moonlit scenarios, but tropical it is alright, and simply another enchanting album. Pop fans as well as Exotica aficionados should check it out, even though the omission of clear cut genre gold standards might be perceived as a letdown. It is available on CD and a download version. Search for the Tropical Jazz Orchestra instead of the Nettai Tropical Jazz Big Band due to translation-related errors, and you will find it more easily.


Exotica Review 276: Nettai Tropical Jazz Big Band – La Noche Tropical (2001). Originally published on Oct. 26, 2013 at