Japan is a big jazz country but for Westerners it always was (and still is) Terra incognita. Sadao Watanabe's international success during late 60s and 70s plus extremely creative Japanese free jazz scene between 1969 and 1972 (with Masahiko Satoh and Masahiko Tagashi) - that's all even experienced European or American jazz fan knows about it. Chick Corea's student Hiromi is great but only Japanese jazz well-known representative on modern international jazz scene.
To be correct,it looks even inside of Japan non-commercial jazz (count all jazz excluding j-fusion and j-pop jazz) starting from late 70s got quite nonconformist underground art's image.The only form which won higher respectful social status is mainstream (mostly hard bop)and for last some decades Japanese gigs and regular releases are one important source of income for best US straight jazz veterans.At the same time creative jazz didn't die on the Far East,it exists in form of plenty of small clubs gigs and some limited edition releases.Living its own life in stone jungles of Japanese cities',modern country's free jazz is quite different from what could be heard on Western scenes. Since one of most influential Japanese post-70s music trend was brutal avant-rock (Ruins,etc),big part of contemporary free jazz is influenced by it. Still there are more different streams,including very interesting eclectic mix of funk,etno-tunes,urban r'n'b and free improvs all in one. Main problem for those interested in more modern Japanese jazz is there isn't possible to find almost any systematic info if you don't speak Japanese. Rare occasional available releases are costly and often aren't all that representative since as rule you have no idea what you're listening.
Fortunately for me,annual Vilnius Jazz Festival contains Japanese artists in their program on annual basis,usually presenting leading creative music,so it helps at least at starting point.Mid-generation sax player Naoji Kondo played here in Vilnius in 2009 as part of Yoriyki Harada - Naoji Kondo duo (with piano veteran Yoriyuki Harada).Short fest's press release informs that Kondo plays free jazz from early age but works as practicing psychoanalyst during day time. He played at Moers Fest in Germany,toured Korea - and it's almost all what is known. On many Japanese clubs' sites one can find he's regularly plays in Japan,often - beside of best domestic artists. As far as I know he released only one album recorded live in 1986.
And this album is great - almost no-one plays like that anymore! Acoustic Kondo-lead sax-bass-drums trio contains another interesting modern Japanese creative jazz artist Daisuke Fuwa on bass (played here on Vilnius Jazz in 2012 leading his own Fuwa Works (with two sax players on board)and lesser known drummer Shiro Ohnuma. Surprisingly enough,Kondo trio plays tuneful,even soulful early free jazz recalling Coltrane's transitional works circa late 1965. All musicianship is based on soloist's (usually Kondo himself,but both bassist and drummer has more than enough time for longish solo improvisations)pushing groovy muscular and very bopish music ahead with support of two rest trio members. Kondo plays lot of themes and tunes,very free but never leaves the ground. It's a real joy listen to his human voice-like sax telling stories, emotive,worm and playful. Fuwa is a bit too modern drummer for that music,slightly too heavyweight and rock-like,but he successfully balances on the edge without destroying Kondo's built fragile beauty. Ohnuma is good bassist,if not too original but very successfully continuing great Isao Suzuki's tradition of deep physical acoustic bass. Lot of tunes,tempos (incl.even marching),very warm and inspired live gig with really enthusiastic public,quite good recording quality - all these makes this obscure release worth time and funds spent.Dedicated listener feels like he participates on concert played in modern days by one of late 60s jazz greats without sense of nostalgia. It like time machine brings you right to New York circa 1966 - no-one plays like that in real world anymore.