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by Don Crispy

Bridge the gap

London acid jazz unit Reel People head up a new party in Shibuya

Reel People's Oli Lazarus (left) and Mike Patto

Half a year after its opening, Duo Music Exchange, a mid-size venue that opened as part of the glitzy new O-East music complex in Shibuya, seems to be finding its stride. Hip-hop supergroup The Roots are in town this weekend, and next weekend the venue is reborn as a club with a new party that Duo's Yumi Miura says "hopes to change the face of the average club event."

We've heard this before, and the mix of live bands and performance art with DJs is hardly novel, but a look at the lineup for the first Bridge the Gap reveals that Duo has put a lot of work into creating a strong event.

The headliners come in the form of a London-based acid jazz unit who will be making their Japan debut. Reel People launched in 2000 as a project of DJ/producer Oli Lazarus, who began to share his vision for a new take on acid jazz, updating its trusty blend of jazz, soul and funk with a liberal dose of contemporary breakbeats.

The first to come on board was sound engineer Tom Davidson, and the pair immediately clicked, creating the 2001 club smash "Spiritual" as the first release from Lazarus's newly formed Papa Records. Next to join was keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter Mike Patto, best known for his work with Restless Soul Productions, and in 2002 the trio set about recording an album.

For the album, they worked with a number of singers and musicians who would ultimately join them in Reel People's live incarnation. Standouts include singer Vanessa Freeman, who has worked with UK breakbeats pioneer 4hero, Japan's own DJ/production unit Kyoto Jazz Massive, and Incognito veteran "Level" Neville Malcolm, among others.

The release of Reel People's debut, Second Guess, was greeted rapturously, and, with its sensitive reworking of acid jazz with elements of electronica, positioned Reel People alongside the Cinematic Orchestra as one of the top contemporary UK electronic soul bands.

In order to play club venues that cannot accommodate a full live band, Reel People created a scaled-down version of itself, Reel People Sessions, which toured Japan in 2003 as a DJ unit with Kyoto Jazz Massive and UFO. This led to a relationship with Japan's Columbia Records, and the release of Second Guess in Japan. It also paved the way for the upcoming tour, featuring the full live incarnation of Reel People.

Joining them at Duo, appropriately, will be Kyoto Jazz Massive. A DJ/production unit consisting of brothers Shuya and Yoshihiro Okino, Kyoto Jazz Massive began their career in (surprise) Kyoto, before relocating to Tokyo and opening the influential Shibuya club, The Room.

Despite its small scale, the club with its consistent focus on quality funk, acid jazz, house, Brazilian and other more soulful aspects of dance music, has had an outsized influence on Tokyo nightlife. It has also provided a launch pad for talents like DJ/producer/bandleader Shinichi Osawa.

The Okino brothers have also worked with countless like-minded overseas talents, from house maestro Francois K to Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto, and in addition to producing a range of acts for their own Compost imprint, have contributed tracks to Blue Note compilations, and toured Europe.

Filling out the lineup is Brazilian-influenced, Japanese funk, jazz and soul unit, Noa Noa. Formed as a bossa nova cover band in 1995 by the leader, who goes by the name "Ben," Noa Noa are currently an instrumental five-piece that works with some of Japan's better female vocalists.

To sum it up, Bridge the Gap kicks off with an admirably impressive grouping of artists. But with many parties launched with equally strong ambitions falling victim to the vagaries of Japanese clubbers' changing tastes and the challenge of turning a profit, one can only hope it establishes itself.

Sep 17, 8pm, ¥4,200. Duo Music Exchange. Tel: 03-5459-8711.

credit: Duo Music Exchange