Qui is a very good self-titled album of jazz fusion by the Japanese band Qui. The music falls into "jazz-rock" but if you think of it as traditional jazz with a sprinkling of occasional rock you won't go far wrong. It should appeal to many fans of the traditional form of jazz.
The "rock" element comes from the band's formation (electric lead and bass guitar, flute, drums and percussion - with Mitsuharu Ouchi's saxophone making a solitary appearance on the fourth composition, "Dachou no Uta"), as well as from the occasional use of jagged "rock" guitar chords and "rock" rhythm patterns. However, Qui's main flavor is undoubtedly jazz.
The main musical textures on Qui are Takashi Hayashi's fluidly played electric guitar and Kazuo Yoshida's delightful flute. These two lead instruments constantly interplay throughout the album and make a wonderful combination. Add to that the superb rhythm section of Naoyuki Seto (bass), Dan Yoshikawa (drums) and Takashi Itani (percussion) and you have a tight, splendid and, at times, innovative jazz sound.
Kazuo's flute adds a wonderful aural texture to the jazz: it's not the most usual of instruments in this context but the playing is well integrated with the band and his playing is the highlight of the album.
Qui is a well-constructed album. Its six compositions are varied and cleverly positioned such that you are first captivated by the rhythm, then by the melody and finally you are ready to listen to the band do some improvisations! It's a structure that captivates the listener and holds interest. Equally, the music has enough rhythm and interest to be enjoyed as background, without you having to concentrate on every nuance (except the improvisational penultimate piece "Jirou", which does demand full attention).
"Puyol" opens in fine style at a fastish tempo. This composition is the closest to the pure jazz form, with the guitar, flute and drums taking turns to lead as the band lays down a wicked rhythm. The tempo then slows for "mimique", which has an almost pastoral feel and is very pretty. "Minamo ni tsuki" begins with sounds that hint of foreboding: a deep, low rumble, played I assume by stroking or bowing a bass string (no synthesizers here!), joined by some ethereal flute. You transport yourself to a ghostly or vampirical world but then it's as if dawn comes in a moment and the sun is high in the sky as the tempo is raised and the music becomes light and happy. The fourth composition, "Dachou no uta" has a rockier edge, with both the guitar playing and Mitsuhari's saxophone having a bit more "bite" than on previous compositions.
"Jirou" is the improvisational or, perhaps more accurately, the experimental composition. Armed with nothing more than a sense of compositional structure the band take turns to experiment with sounds without having the "anchor" of supporting rhythm. Gradually, as the piece develops, Takashi Itani lays down longer and longer bursts of different conventional rhythm patterns and, taking their cue, the others' experimentation develops to include more phrasing, so that by the time of its ending, "Jirou" is jamming at conventional time-signatures.
Personally, I'm not too keen on "Jirou's" kind of experimentation on disc; it's better suited to live performance. Qui just about get away with it because of the composition's and the album's structure. Cleverly, the band return to a more conventional jazz-rock format for the closing number, "Astratto", spicing it up with some changes of mood and just a tad of experimentation. It's a good way to finish off.
Good album structure, good compositions, good instrumentalists, great sense of rhythm - it's a very good album, perhaps a great one. Time will tell just how good it is once it has allowed me more than a few listens. As such, my rating of 4 stars is perhaps a little harsh.
1) Puyol (8:21)
2) mimique (4:48)
3) Minamo ni tsuki (8:59)
4) Dachou no uta (5:56)
5) Jirou (10:37)
6) Astratto (9:55)