Nakajima Duo blends cool Jazz with hot Brazil at TD Vancouver International Jazz Fest

The Nakajima Duo brought sunny Brazilian Jazz to a cloudy day at the Vancouver Jazz festival. The music blended bossa nova with jazz. 

Yuji Nakajima of The Nakajima Duo
All photos courtesy of Simon Abbott

Clouds hung over Granville Island but at the Public Market stage, the sun shone brightly with the happy music of The Nakajima Duo (guitarist Yuji Nakajima and percussionist Liam MacDonald). Their music blended jazz, Brazilian Bossa Nova, Choro and a range of other Brazilian music. It mixed up a whole bunch of Latin melodies with a few Flamenco and classical riffs thrown in. They didn’t so much play together as have a musical conversation, responding to each other’s notes, tones and rhythms. They played jazz but jazz that made you happy, made you smile and want to dance.

Though Yuji and Liam started playing together 5 years ago, their coming together as a duo is a recent event.  I was surprised. Their music has that ‘ lifetime of collaboration’ feel to it. Yuji began his career playing electric guitar in a rock band. He moved on to jazz and then to Brazilian music, replacing the electric guitar with a nylon stringed one. The fingers of his picking hand moved constantly, plucking, strumming, and playing the melody in the higher ranges while simultaneously running a bass rhythm counterpoint. He’s a virtuoso.

Liam also started out playing rock then went to jazz school. Fascinated with Brazilian music he developed a drum kit consisting of a small wooden bass drum, a tambourine, a triangle, and various gourds, rattles and bells. “In Brazilian bands, they’d have two or there people playing all this stuff but we don’t have that luxury.” His percussion combined rhythm with a sound effects-like texture. A rattle or a chime added to a series of guitar notes changed those notes, gave them a different tone, more depth, another meaning. These guys made the sun shine on a cloudy day. Check them out if you get the chance. Cool jazz meets hot Brazilian – amazing!

Kudos to the Vancouver International Jazz Festival – great sound, lovely venue, and a wonderfully uplifting show – a truly remarkable value.

Nakajima Duo - June 20th - Granville Island - Public Market Stage @ noon

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