Tokyo Prose: Presence
Samurai Red Seal

On his debut Tokyo Prose album Presence, Sam Reed takes the words of Eckhart Tolle to heart, specifically his contention that “(p)resence is when you're no longer waiting for the next moment, believing that the next moment will be more fulfilling than this one.” Stated otherwise, Presence isn't about what Tokyo Prose will be in the future nor what it was when the project (then a duo) was signed in 2008 by Samurai Music head Geoff Presha after hearing the group's first demos. As a portrait of Tokyo Prose right now, the sixty-nine-minute album captures a project in fine form and specifically one that focuses on the soulful and sometimes soothing end of the drum'n'bass spectrum.

Reed is joined on the album by a number of guests, among them Lenzman and Synkro and singers such as Zoë Klinck and Riya. While instrumental tracks are included, vocals are prominently featured, whether it be as sung lyrics or as wordless atmosphere. Enhancing the project's appeal is its emphasis on acoustic sounds, with ample helpings of piano and vocals helping to humanize the material.

That Presence begins with the downtempo splendour of “16 Bar Cycles” indicates that Reed has conceived the recording with the full album experience in mind. While the overture isn't beats-free, its concentration on piano and synthesizers gives it the feel of a scene-setter designed to ease the listener in before the action heats up (“Dance with You” does much the same in guiding the listener relaxedly out at album's end). The cut that follows, “Won't Let Me Go” (with Lenzman and Fox), is thus more emblematic of the album and Tokyo Prose in general, especially when its drum'n'bass groove opts for smooth control rather than frenetic mayhem, and even at this early stage, the emotive and soulful strain in Reed's music is clearly evident.

In draping elegant piano chords across a swinging pulse, “Small Gains” exudes a sophisticated and understated character that suggests it wouldn't be misguided to think of Tokyo Prose and Calibre as kindred spirits, and a similar impression forms when the stirring “Fragmented You” appears with its own late-night blend of piano, beats, and sensual female vocalizing. On the vocal front, Klinck's and Riya's respective contributions to “Kidman” and “Waiting On” make them two of the album's most satisfying cuts, even if the tunes are as appealing for their luscious sonic qualities as the singers' soulful performances. And with Reed joined by LSB and DRS, “Sunsets” shows the Tokyo Prose project to be jazzy and soulful.

Though it's not quite at the same towering level, Presence is somewhat like Lenzman's fabulous Looking At The Stars in offering an encompassing and summative portrait of the artist. To his credit, Reed has created a potently atmospheric collection that's thoroughly accessible without comprising on the integrity of its content, and Presence, considerably more than a grab-bag of belters, impresses as a classy artistic statement.

August-September 2014