In lieu of a PE’Z review, or one entry fits all

I’ve been meaning to write about PE’Z for a long time, but I never seem to have a chance. I’d seen the band’s name pop up on various sites about a year or two before pianist Hiizami Masayuki hooked up with Shiina Ringo on Tokyo Jihen. That got the attention of stateside Japanese music fans.

But PE’Z is rather like Enya — the band’s albums are good, but they all sound the same. Unless you’re actually familiar with a particular PE’Z album, it’s not easy to tell where one begins and the other ends if you string them back to back.

It almost strikes me as pointless writing individual reviews for each album, even if I group them together in one entry.

And yet PE’Z makes an important contribution to jazz music — they make it fun again.

Time and again, music pundits call jazz "America’s classical music", and it’s developed the staid patina of European classical music to prove that point.

The music and the audience have assumed roles. State a short melody, veer off into some long-winded improvising, state the melody again to let the audience show its appreciation, next musician veers off into some long-winded improvising. If there’s excitement to be had, it’s within the strict confines of this role-playing.

PE’Z does the exact same thing, but they’ve stripped away the be-bop complexities and locked up the swing. They dumbed down the music and gave it shot of adrenaline. Some would say they gave it crystal meth.

But they didn’t sacrifice technique, and they certainly amped up the flash. At the band’s SXSW showcase in 2006, Hiizami played on a beaten-up old keyboard, kept together precariously by pieces of duct tape, and he anchored his stand with his leg while he pounded out his chords. That was rock ‘n’ roll.

On top of it all, PE’Z writes some infectuously catchy hooks.

When I encounter a PE’Z album, I usually think, "This is not going to be different than the last PE’Z album I heard." Midway through it, I’ll realize, "Wow. This is catchy, and this is fun."

PE’Z is not surprising. They are dependable. And that puts them in close proximity of boring. But the energy of the band’s performances demand such attention, that boredom is kept at bay.

At the same time, I don’t play PE’Z often, and I don’t play PE’Z albums back to back.

If I have a peeve, it’s with the band’s prolific output. Their last three albums clock at around half an hour and contain only eight songs each. Maybe rather than release three short albums, you all could make one longer album?

Perhaps this prolific work ethic goes to the heart of the band’s muse. These guys just gotta play.

The albums in my collection:

  • Suzumushi. Probably my favorite, since it’s the first time I listened to PE’Z. "Tasogare" is far too hummable.
  • Tsukushinbou. This album also has its flashes of melodic brilliance.
  • Chitosedori. Hot on the heels of Tsukushinbou, Chitosedori seems a bit rushed although the band experiment’s more with the studio.