It was a bold move for Shiina Ringo to form a band after a successful solo career. The standard operating procedure is to leave a band to go solo.
But there was a sense Shiina wasn’t totally ready for the leap to team player.
Tokyo Jihen’s debut album, Kyooiku, featured some dazzling performances, but it seemed the songs Shiina wrote for the album weren’t the right ones for this set of players.
Kyooiku might have sounded great with Gyakutai Glycogen (her touring band from 2000) or Hatsuiku Status (a one-off club band featuring members of Number Girl and DMBQ). But not with Tokyo Jihen.
With the ensemble’s second album, Shiina seems more comfortable as a member of a group, and Otona shows it.
Shiina has come completely out of the closet with her jazz aspirations. In the past, she would obfuscate such influences behind layers of rock guitar and distorted rhythms.
On Otona, she disguises nothing.
"Kenka Jootoo" swings like mad. "Keshoo Naoshi" shows off some Brazilian rhythms, keying into the bossa nova scene inhabited by Ann-Sally and Hatakeyama Miyuki.
She lets producer Kameda Seiji take songwriting duties on the majestic "Superstar", while the album version of "Shuraba" makes its disco roots clear.
"Tasogare Naki" revels in its cabaret feel, while the manic "Blackout" is only one remix away from the kitsch of Pizzicato Five.
Kyooiku lacked the consistent construction of Shiina’s solo work, but Otona brings it all back. Every song on the album is strong, and the entire work feels like a complete whole.
The clearer jazz writing gives the rest of Tokyo Jihen a lot of musical meat on which to chew. New members Ukigumo (guitar) and Izawa Ichiyou (piano) don’t miss a beat — they sound like they’ve been with the band forever.
(I hate to say this, but PE’Z keyboardist Hiizami Masayuki seemed drowned out on the first album.)
In shifting her attention more to the jazz aspect of her writing, Shiina has fashioned a new sound other bands wouldn’t have the skill to ape — hard rock with some serious fucking swing.
In the same way the "samurai jazz" of PE’Z is both energetic and poppy, Tokyo Jihen is a rock band that can throw down with even the hardest of be-boppers.
With Otona, Shiina Ringo has successfully carved a niché for her band. Tokyo Jihen melds rock and jazz in a way that invigorates both genres.