Japan / 2018 In Review

There were new releases from veterans of Tokyo`s dance floors. Kaoru Inoue got organic with Em Paz for Groovement. Creating a truly global sound. Chillout guru Calm issued By Your Side with Hell Yeah! Crafting a Summer soundtrack of Beach Boys harmonies, chimes, warm swells, and considerable keys. Masanori Ikeda teamed up with another keyboard maestro, Cro-Magnon`s Takumi Kaneko, as Coastlines, for a superlative cover of Ralph McDonald – a steel pan Samba – on Flower. 

Japanese Jackie Mittoo Emerson Kitamura also produced a sublime cover. Turning George McCrae`s Rock Your Baby into a lullaby for Osaka’s EM. 180g helped introduce the sampledelia of Videotapemusic to the outside world. Growing Bin did the same for the Free Jazz freakouts of Singu. Calling Cosmic UFOs, and setting off psychedelic fireworks.

On the reissue front, one of the highlights was Archeo Recordings epic 3×12 repackaging of Sth Notional`s Yawn Yawn Yawn. Already a Balearic classic, having been discovered by Phil Mison and comp`d by Moonboots and Claremont 56, the remixes by Japan`s rising sons – Max Essa, Chee Shimizu, Yabe Tadashi, and Kuniyuki Takahashi made it essential. Even for those lucky enough to own the original vinyl. 

WRWTFWW continued to work with master percussionist Midori Takada. Re-releasing two LPs by Mkwaju Ensemble, which featured Takada-san alongside Junko Arase, and Yoji Sadanari, with assistance from Joe Hisaishi, Hideki Matsutake, Shuichi Murakami, and Pecker. Conjuring percussive oases. The label also licensed the heavy, Post-Punk Funk of EP-4. A music in cahoots with the Industrial gamelan of 23 Skidoo. 

Another landmark Japanese reissue for me was Takashi Kokubo`s A Dream Sails Out To Sea. Which found UK imprint Lag rescuing three tracks from Kokubo-san`s Get At The Wave, and added the 16 minute opus, Ocean Breeze. Lag also had Joe Hisaishi`s electronic soundtrack for the anime Kisshō Tennyo.

Record Store Day saw a limited reissue of the sole LP by Hisaishi-san`s Wonder City Orchestra, and Daisaku Kume`s score for the Beat Takeshi-starring, Violent Cop. 

There was also traditional music, sourced from either end of the country. Pingipung reissued Hokkaido mukkuri player Umeko Ando`s Ihunke from 2001. EM had Jun Arasaki`s Okinawan Folk song, Kajyadhi Fu Bushi remixed by Visible Cloaks. 

Music From Memory gained access to the archives of Kuniyuki Takahashi, and put out two volumes of the super producer`s Early Tape Works. The first collected computerized chamber music, metal dance, and Techno Trance. The second was an Ambient Exotica of field recordings and traditional instruments. 

Chee Shimizu received the keys to the musical vaults of Colored Music – Ichiko Hashimoto and Atsuo Fujimoto. Individual Beauty, on Chee`s imprint Japanism, contained a whole host of alternative versions and previously unreleased compositions. Music which moved between Disco-Not-Disco and avant ambience (Ichiko Hashimoto had her own solo back catalogue reissued through HMV Japan). Japanism also re-visited Yasuaki Shimizu`s 1987 LP, Subliminal. These Parisian sessions representing another global collision. Electro, inspired by Afrika Bambaataa, and sung in English, French, Japanese, and Senegalese Wolof. Re-Subliminal featured edits by Chee, that included the brilliant “Balearic” dancer, Tamare Tamare.  The label are about to reissue Yasuaki-san`s 1988 LP, Dementos, any minute now. 

One of the Japanese compilations of the year had to be Jazzy Cous Cous` Kumo No Muro. Painstakingly pulled together by Tokyo resident Alixkun, it collected a beautiful array of Ambient / New Age moments from a variety of big names in Japanese Jazz and Fusion. Such as Yoshio Suzuki, Shigeru Suzuki, and Keizo Inoue. 

Another contender was renowned digger, and Ondas Music owner, Dubby`s selections for the second shot from Studio Mule`s Midnight In Tokyo series. Licensing experimental-edged Boogie, Fusion and City Pop from the likes of Todays Latin Project, and Keiichi Oku. The Studio Mule collective – which includes Kuniyuki and Dip In The Pool`s Miyako Koda – also  released a trio of covers. Updating classics by Mariah,  Yumi Murata, and Taeko Ohnuki. 

More Fusion could be found on Time Capsule. A new label run by the extended Beauty And The Beat family (watch out `cos there`s also a shop on the way). Their second release focussed on the work of guitarist, Yuji Toriyama. Jazz-Funk from the early 80s of LM-1 pops, Blues arcs, synths, and slapped basses. 

It would be impossible to round-up the year`s Japanese releases without mentioning BBE`s amazing J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969-1984, and the subsequent reissues of albums led by pianist Toru Aizawa, saxophonist Koichi Matsukaze, and drummer Takeo Moriyama. Beautiful urban urgency. Of carnival snares, solos expressing anger, agony, and ecstasy. Rushing, blowing, blasting towards the brink of Eternity. All of which opened a window to world that I thought would forever be closed……

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