Gentlemen—I'm here to talk about a very special band today. They once went by the name of The Square, but now they call themselves T-Square. They are a Japanese jazz fusion group that has been active for more than 30 years, heavily influencing the development of jazz fusion in their culture and leading to successful solo careers for many of its own musicians. And, as always, it's best to start with the musicians.
The band was formed by two important people in Japanese music: Takeshi "T.K." Itoh, playing on lead alto sax and, in due time, Lyricon and Akai EWI instruments—and Masahiro Ando, doing main composition and playing on guitar. Takeshi was the lead saxophonist for T-Square ever since the late 70s, up until 1990-1 when he left to form his own successful solo career. Masahiro, on the other hand, happens to be the only permanent member of the band since its inception, and has also managed to have his own successful solo career, particularly making game soundtracks for the Arc the Lad franchise and Gran Turismo.
The above track was the first from their third album, Make Me A Star—in the early years of The Square, there was a prominent dance-disco influence heard in the group, who put unique chord progressions with jazzy interludes to great fusion grooves. Takeshi and Masahiro were the only two permanent members of the band back then—coming straight out of college, they went around and performed with whoever they could get, and the results were interesting. Before their 80s period, where there was a definite T-Square formula now in place, the late-70s period was a time for frantic experimentation, which led to Make Me A Star, my favorite example of the era.
In due time, though, new members, such as Mitsuro Itoh on bass and Hirotaka Izumi on the keyboards, would come to be permanent replacements for the guest performers and would help to define the 80s sound of T-Square even further.
Albums such as S·P·O·R·T·S and Truth came to define the more rock and pop-influenced 80s style of The Square, with new and extensive use of wind instrument and keyboard synths alongside the usual saxophone and guitar sounds, and it was the titular track to the album Truth that helped the band achieve massive recognition in Japan, thanks to its use as the official theme for Japanese TV's coverage of F1 racing events. It was then that the band's popularity rose tremendously, and it was around the new decade that Takeshi finally made plans to leave and start his own solo career.
And, in his stead, came around a new saxophone and wind instrument virtuoso by the name of Masato Honda. Masato originally played as a backup player for Takeshi during one of T-Square's live tours, but finally joined the band and led to the creation of New-S, their 1991 album that would evole the The Square sound, into the new T-Square sound.
Masato's inclusion would have a profound effect on the overall sound of the band. There was now a lot more brass and brassy feel to the sound, and the melodies and overall compositions had become more upbeat and fast-paced, helped greatly by Masato's energetic and adverse improvisation. He also displayed proficiency in all sorts of instruments, most notably saxophone and EWI. When he left around 1998 to start his own solo career, a similar-sounding saxophonist by the name of Takahiro Miyazaki came in to fill the void, before Takeshi Itoh's triumphant return to the band with the album Friendship, in 2000.
Today, the T-Square sound has retained many aspects of its 90s era sound, while returning to some of the aspects of the more-moody sound of the 80s The Square, and has even gone and revisited its earliest days in new style.
Alongside Casiopea, Dimension, and many other influential J-Fuse bands, T-Square is potentially the most influential, and they've made great jazz-fusion to boot!