Nippon in New York: Kyogen, J-MUSIC Ensemble, Shunzo Ohno, Video Games Live
by Justin Tedaldi,

With Thanksgiving (and the hopes of sensible eating) now just a memory, we turn to colder weather, falling snow, and the new year to come. Fortunately for Japanese culture fans, December is just as busy as the holiday season itself. Whether you’re hosting guests from out of town or looking to squeeze in an event or two in between parties, we’ve got you covered.

This month’s highlights include:

Wednesday, Dec. 2, 10:00 p.m.
Gene Ess & Fractal Attraction
Club Bonafide, 212 East 52nd Street, $15

Fresh off the heels of their 2015 SESAC Award-winning album Eternal Monomyth, Gene Ess and Fractal Attraction have been solidifying themselves as one of New York’s premiere collectives featuring original material that explores the use of the voice as an instrument in a chamber group setting. Eternal Monomyth is the riveting companion piece to Fractal Attraction, which was the winner of the SESAC Outstanding Jazz Award in 2010 and peaked at number 3 on the jazz radio charts. Originally from Tokyo, Ess grew up on a United States Air Force base on Okinawa. He has performed with Carlos Santana, Archie Shepp, Matt Garrison, Reggie Workman, Ravi Coltrane, and Dave Liebman.

Dec. 10-12, 7:30 p.m.
A Night of Kyogen with Mansaku Nomura and Mansaku-no-Kai Kyogen Company
Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street
$55-$85, $45-$75 Japan Society members

Living National Treasure Mansaku Nomura, together with illustrious members of the Mansaku-no-Kai Kyogen Company, including Mansaku’s son star of stage/film/TV Mansai Nomura and practiced performer Yukio Ishida, return to Japan Society to offers a special evening of kyogen, Japan’s traditional comedic theater that satirizes and embraces human imperfection. Centering around Mansaku’s virtuosic performance of the vigorous solo piece Nasu no Yoichi, based on a serious episode from The Tale of the Heike, the program also includes the dynamic Akutaro, starring Mansai, about a troublemakers unexpected journey to repentance and the popular play Bonsan, which follows a foolish thief with a penchant for bonsai trees. With English supertitles. The Thursday, November 10 performance is followed by a MetLife Meet-the-Artists Reception for ticket holders.

Friday, Dec. 11, 11:00 p.m.
Racha Fora
Club Bonafide, 212 East 52nd Street $10

Racha Fora was formed in 2010 originally as a quartet by two Japanese and two Brazilians in Boston. Racha Fora issued its debut album in 2012, which was focused on group flutist Hiroaki Honshuku’s compositions, and embarked on a tour of Japan, which became an annual affair. They just released their second album from the JazzTokyo label, Racha S’Miles: Racha Fora’s Tribute to Miles, in which Miles Davis standards from the 1950s and 1960s are reborn in the 21st century featuring NEA Jazz Master (and key saxophonist for Davis in the 1970s), Dave Liebman. This intimate late night set features special guest Donny McCaslin on sax.

Sunday, Dec. 13, 8:00 p.m.
J-MUSIC Ensemble
Shrine, 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard
J-pop meets jazz! The J-MUSIC Ensemble is an NYC-based, jazz-rooted instrumental band that is devoted to bringing new perspectives to modern Japanese music, showcasing a fresh take on the best of J-pop, anime and video game tunes. This strikingly sonorous eight-piece band combines the elements of the electric guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums with a full horn section—saxophone, trumpet, and trombone–to deliver a full and powerful, yet dynamic, sound. Following in the jazz tradition, the horns do not play a background role in this instrumentation; instead, they are at the forefront and are put in the same role as leading singers.

Saturday, Dec. 19, 7:30 p.m.
Shunzo Ohno
The Cutting Room, 44 East 32nd Street
$20 advance, $25 day of show

A versatile musician who has played, recorded and toured with such renowned leaders as Gil Evans, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Art Blakey, award-winning artist Shunzo Ohno has 16 recordings under his own name as a leader and has appeared on over 30 more as a sideman. His fascinating life, with his triumph over illness and adversity is the subject of the biography Trumpet of Hope and the documentary Trumpet of Glory. This intimate performance (featuring Billy Kilson, David Berkman, Clifford Carter, and more guests) offers an exclusive opportunity to purchase Ohno’s forthcoming studio CD ReNew, which will not be sold online until mid-2016.

Sunday, Dec. 27, 8:30 p.m.
Setsuko: Sing for Peace
The Bitter End, 147 Bleecker Street
$10 advance, $20 at the door

Japanese singer/songwriter Setsuko will perform original funk and soul music, bringing an exciting groove to the stage. In “Sing for Peace,” through her music, she will tell the story of how each person can contribute to creating a peaceful world. Setsuko believes in the power of music because music transcends the barriers of all different ethnicities and languages. Ten percent of ticket sales will be donated to UNICEF to support the health and educational needs of disadvantaged children in developing countries.

Saturday, Jan. 2, 7:30 p.m.
Video Games Live
New Jersey Performing Arts Center (Newark) $39.50-$69.50

This explosive, one-of-a-kind entertainment experience features the world’s top orchestras and choirs performing with exclusive synchronized videos, lighting and music arrangements, well-known internet solo performers, electronic percussion, and live action and interactive segments. Pre- and post-show activities include a costume contest, Guitar Hero competition, prize giveaways, interactive game demos, and a meet-and-greet with leading game composers, designers and industry talent. Even if you have never played a video game, you’ve never seen or heard an orchestral performance quite like this.

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