Siiya Brown 椎谷ブラウン

Who could guess where someone with a name like that came from? So Siiya says with a smile.

You could ask the same of his music. Jazz roots are evident but there are flashes of many genres, especially those grown of acoustic origins: folk, blues, bluegrass, gypsy swing, light pop. Where does it all come from? Curiosity, passion, discipline maybe…and a teacher with good taste in music.

Until Siiya’s recent release of his debut album, his place in the Japanese music world would have been best described as support guitarist for other musicians, most notably Ohashi Trio. Ohashi, the popular ‘solo’ pianist with the sweet, sometimes soulful voice, actually plays multiple instruments, even on his own CDs, but needs some back-up playing live. He apparently added “Trio” in place of his first name because of his love of jazz; he noticed “trio” attached to so many jazz groups he liked and thought it would be interesting to use it himself.

Siiya and Ohashi were originally classmates at Senzoku Gakuen College of Music, where they both studied jazz. But the spark that lit Siiya’s passion for jazz came years earlier.

“One of my language and literature teachers in high school really liked jazz so I thought I would give it a listen. He loaned me a bunch of CDs, old Blue Note classics like Wes Montgomery and Grant Green. I was hooked after that and decided to learn jazz. Until then, I had just been practicing with classmates in band club.

When I entered Senzoku, I had to go back to the basics. But the school was my launch. I built a foundation for jazz and have just been getting gradually better ever since.”

Siiya took advantage of a program that allowed him to continue for two years at Berklee College of Music in Boston after two years at Senzoku.

“It was a fairly smooth transition. There were classes at my level, but there were also some amazing students there, too. When I saw them performing, I was blown away.”

Not having studied English much previously, Siiya took a three-month crash course before starting classes, describing that part, at least, as rough. Some of his classmates during his time at Berklee included future members of UoU, a New York based Japanese jazz group currently garnering some attention with their recent debut album. Abe Daisuke, the guitarist, was a classmate of his at Senzoku, and later became a roommate.

“I enrolled in jazz studies and only practiced guitar. I was doing a lot of jazz exercises but over there, you are exposed to so many other styles…Irish, country, folk… when I heard some of those old styles, I thought ‘yeah, I like that,’ but I just absorbed it without actually playing it myself. Once I got back to Japan, I realized that I wasn’t really a jazz person and I began dabbling in other styles.”

Other instruments, too–Siiya eventually learned the mandolin, pedal steel and banjo, in addition to guitar. Then, after several years with few leads, he got a call from Ohashi in 2006, asking if he would back him up on guitar. As they shared similar tastes in music, Siiya readily accepted.

“Joining with him was a big influence. And I began to think, yeah, I want to start doing my own music as well.”

It would be a long road, however. When asked if he’s ever had a period of struggle, Siiya laughs and says, “Like right now?”

He says it as if the struggle has never ended.

“After I got back from Japan, I had nothing. I wasn’t married, I didn’t have a job. That was the hardest time. During those years before Ohashi called me, I worked part-time doing just about anything, teaching guitar, delivering stuff… I was even one of those construction area safety men waving the glowing wands. Things have been getting just barely better with time.”

Siiya at least found a steady teaching gig, which evidently allowed him enough time and leisure to start recording. His wonderfully varied debut album, Mr. Guitar Gentleman, was released in early July, after a year and a half effort.

“I couldn’t see the end of the tunnel at first. I only had a laptop and an interface, and recorded 80% of it myself.”

Siiya got some back up on the drums from none other than Ohashi himself, as well as help from other talented musicians, especially Izawa Yoichi on steel pan. And while Siiya handled the recording and mixing, Ohashi Trio’s mastering specialist polished off the album for him.

There are no vocals on the twelve-song album, but plenty of musical textures and surprises. The opening track, Mouffetard, is reminiscent of Squirrel Nut Zippers, with an unusual mix of electric swing, jazz and calypso (SNZ’s song “Hell” was a smash hit around the time Siiya went to Berklee). Siiya follows with a contemporary jazz number, “Return of the Brownie Monster,” that has an infectious guitar loop accompanied by horns, banjo and flute. “Snow Falls Softly” sounds almost contemporary classical, until the mandolin and slide guitar kick in, giving it a unique folk flavor. Halfway through the album, you realize you have no idea what’s coming next. And yet, it doesn’t feel like hodge-podge. Some kind of deeper unity abides. A many-colored style emerges. The album ends with soothing folk tune and you realize there’s not a bad song on it.

Again, the question: where did this music come from? Siiya cites numerous artists he respects, including Tom Waits, Ry Cooder, Django Reinhart and of course Grant Green.

Siiya Brown then reveals how he chose his mysterious stage name, “At first I thought I’d just go with my real name, but instead I dropped my first name and added Brown to my last (standard Romanization would be Shiiya with an “h”). I liked Grant Green, so I thought about a color. I struck on Brown. Siiya Brown. There’s no picture of me on the CD jacket cover. No explanation of who I am. ”

But who needs an explanation? The music is explanation enough. Plenty enough.

椎谷ブラウンって名前、どこから来たのか誰も分からないよね? と、本人が笑いながら言う。












それでもギターを教える仕事だけは続けたおかげでアルバム製作をスタートさせることができた。色々なスタイルが詰まった彼のデビュー作『Mr. Guitar Gentleman』は1年半の製作期間を経て今年7月に発表された。



収録曲全12曲はすべてインストだが、様々な音楽的要素と仕掛けが織り交ぜられている。1曲目”Mouffetard”(ムフタール)はスクイーレル・ナット・ジッパーズを連想させる音で、スイング、ジャズ、カリプソなどの要素が詰まっている(ちょうど椎谷がバークレーに居た頃、スクイ—レルの”Hell”というカリプソナンバーが大ヒットしていた)。2曲目はコンテンポラリーなジャズナンバー”Return of the Brownie Monster”。印象的なギター・ループに管楽器、バンジョー、フルートなどが加わる。”Snow Falls Softly”は現代クラシック調と思いきや、マンドリンとスライドギターが入ってきてユニークな民族音楽調に変化する。次はどんな曲なのか想像がつかない面白さがありながら、まとまりに欠けるという感じは無く、深いところで一貫したものが流れているのを感じる。心地良いフォークのメロディーでアルバムは締めくくられていて、全体を聞き終えたとき、一曲も無駄な曲が無いことに気付くだろう。


最後に彼は椎谷ブラウンという怪しげな芸名の秘密を明かしてくれた。「最初は本名の椎谷求(しいやもとむ)でいこうと思っていましたが、Siiyaとすることにしました(Shiiyaが正しいアルファベット表記だが、あえてそうしなかった)。そしてグラント・グリーンが大好きだったのでグリーンにあやかって僕も何かの色を名前に入れようと思い、ブラウンを思い付いてSiiya Brownという名前にしました。また、アルバムジャケットには僕の顔写真などは載せていませんし、僕がどんな人間なのかという説明も載せてはいません。」


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