Nautilus are Japan’s answer to BadBadNotGood 

Foto: © Oonops Drops
In the midst of jazz-funk reissues and Rare Groove compilations, Nautilus emerges making exactly the same sound. But new. And out of Japan.

In the beginning was the song – and the song was: Nautilus. Toshiyuki Sasaki heard this obscure Bob James groove track from James’ 1974 début album and named the band he newly formed in 2014 after it. The history of how Bob James’ works have been received is not insignificant for the development of the band as a whole. 

During the seventies and eighties, jazz-funk virtuoso and composer Bob James was a much sought-after figure. While his compositional skills remained in demand for a long time, the commissions dried up a little later. In lieu of this, hip-hop crews rediscovered the rich treasures to be found in James’s oeuvre and used his tracks as samples. It wasn’t until the noughties that resourceful label makers and record producers unearthed old gems from sample databases. Magnificently shimmering jazz and funk numbers found their way onto compilations and re-issues on LPs. 

As a band Nautilus was born out of this mixture of digging, rare and organic grooves and early jazz revival. From then on, Toshiyuki Sasaki and bassist Shigeki Umezawa were to become the heart and brain of the trio – for the first few years they were accompanied by Daisuke Takeuchi on piano and keyboard. 

»»Nautilus play with the sexy composure of an Anderson .Paak backing band.« «

It was only natural then that »Nautilus« became the band’s signature piece – in its own interpretation, which, although close to the original, nevertheless displays a certain minimalism. Sasaki, a drummer through and through, had been a big fan of grooving jazz for some time by then. Legend has it he had his first experiences with Jamiroquai as a teenager. It had to groove, that was clear and the top priority. 

Nautilus have been merrily playing their way through web and record finds ever since: Covering Gil Scott-Heron here and Suzann Vega there. Meanwhile, the Roy Ayers classic »We Live In Brooklyn Baby« was to gain special significance: German DJ and digger Oonops aka Patrick Decker stumbled across this track and the Bob James cover version that had given the baby its name in the first place. He was immediately hooked and knocked on the band’s door and on the door of Agogo Records in his home town of Hanover. A short time later, »Nautiloid Quest« would hit the record store shelves. 

Nothing rubs the wrong way here 

The compilation brings together all the most important tracks from Nautilus’ first two albums, which were released exclusively in Japan. European and American audiences embraced the sound. And it wasn’t difficult, either. The music seems very familiar, and the band doesn’t really fit into the cliché-laden categories that people have for Japanese musicians and jazz musicians in particular: Even though Toshiyuki Sasaki and bassist Shigeki Umezawa played with flawless technique, overstretched cleanliness was certainly not their approach. 

Instead of technical fiddling on a machine, they welcomed swing; where musicians usually like to pick at strings, they played with the sexy serenity of an Anderson .Paak backing band. The trio had arrived in Europe, but at the same time they were also serving the Japanese market. They pulled off this balancing act for a few years. Then came the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and the departure of pianist Daisuke Takeuchi. Instead, Mariko Nakabayashi has been hitting the keys since 2020. 

Today, Nautilus have expanded their repertoire, for example cooperating with their compatriot and singer Anna Sato. Frontman Toshi Sasaki, who is largely responsible for the collaboration, once again sets the tone here. As can be heard on last year’s LP, these two worlds also blend together perfectly: For one thing, there’s the now familiar cover sound which takes aim at »Manhã« by Brazilian jazz heroes Azymuth on the advice of new label maker Oonops. On the flip side, there’s the surprise: Anna Sato’s classic enka vocals and a sample of the Japanese shamisen lute garland and accentuate break-beat beds that put you in an otherworldly trance. 

One thing is clear: Nautilus aren’t a run-of-the-mill band; they don’t really care about clichés and expectations. Instead, they are one of the most exciting jazz bands around right now – both here and in Japan. 

Nautilus In-Store Gig
12May 23
Berlin • HHV-Store