As with my Balearic Beat favourites, this list is in no real order of preference, more a stream of musical consciousness – but I`ll start riffing in my adopted homeland and see where we end up.
The reissuing of Japanese gems continued unabated with hot compilations from Empire Of Signs, Mule Musiq, and Music From Memory. Selections focused on the work of Masahiro Sugaya, Kuniyuki Takahashi and Toshifumi Hinata. While Alix Zerd`s Jazzy Couscous imprint released a second volume of 雲の向こう (Kumo No Muko) – which cherry-picked Nippon obscurities from a maze of small independent labels. The majors also got in on the act, with Columbia`s heavyweight re-pressings of Seigen Ono`s seminal sets for Comme Des Garçons.
Not strictly Japanese but originally only available in Japan, Be With Records and Efficient Space teamed-up to reissue Steve Hiett`s Down On The Road By The Beach, together with Hiett`s previously unreleased, archival, Girls In The Grass. The iconic British photographer sadly passed away on August 28th, just moments before the fresh vinyl reached stores.
I picked up new Japanese music by Tominori Hosoya, care of Francis Harris` Brooklyn-based Scissor & Thread. Visible Cloaks worked over Studio Mule`s cover of Yumi Murata`s Face To Face. In my opinion turning in one of the most beautiful, and accessible, things that they’ve done. DJ / producer Masanori Ikeda and keyboardist, Takumi Kaneko joined forces as Coastlines. First teasing with two 45s, then hitting us with an essential summer long-player, all courtesy of Flower Records. Creating instrumental fusions that took their cues from library music, dipped into reggae, while covering Azymuth into the bargain. Supporting Coastlines live in the autumn was one of the best nights out I had this year.
Using Coastlines` cover of Azymuth`s Last Summer In Rio as a tenuous link, I`ll next bounce all the way over to Brazil – where Hello Sailor Recordings had one of the comps of the year in the shape of Street Soul Brasil (1987 – 1995). Tunes from the play-lists and productions of Sao Paulo’s black music parties, Kaskatas and Chic Show, painstakingly dug-out and dusted-off by Augusto Olivani. Far Out Recordings reissued Ana Mazzotti`s solo LPs – from which Feel Like Making Love was essential to any sunset cocktail-sipping soundtrack – and speaking of essential sunset soundtracks – Phil Mison`s stunning Hostal La Torre set introduced me to Ze Roberto`s Lotus 72D, which was then very handily put out on a repro 7 by Mr. Bongo. I honestly rinsed this tune all year. Still in the South America`s Strangelove Music salvaged Echoes, a collection drawn from the collaborations between San Franciscan Frank Harris and Venezuelan vocalist Maria Marquez. A project which began as a “tropical Sade” but went far broader, and deeper, than that.
Music From Memory released another key Brazilian compilation – the second volume in John Gomez` Outro Tempo series. Curating a mix of deviant pop and “out-there” avant experiments , where one of – the many – standouts was Edson Natale`s Mina Maika. Japan’s Silent River Runs Deep imprint later reissued the Edson Natale LP in its entirety.
Music From Memory continued their relationship Spanish musician / composer Suso Saiz, reissuing his Musica Esporadica project from 1985 – and sticking with Spain, Emotional Rescue showcased the sitar skills of Barcelona-based multi-instrumentalist, and Finis Africae cohort, Luis Paniagua, by licensing his his buzzing Neptuno, from 1987. Former Music From Memory focus, Mallorcan guitarist, Joan Bibiloni, saw his Born long-player back in shops, while new music came from The Balearics in the form of Mark Barrott`s Sketches From A Distant Ocean. The Sheffield-born expat reactivating his International Feel label, after 12 months off tending to his White Isle vegetable patch.
Spain was also present in the flamenco of French artist Antoine Tato Garcia, and the guitar-playing of Jacob Gurevitsch. The Danish gitano`s In Search Of Lost Time album was one of the highlights released this year by Music For Dreams. The others being teasers from Phil Mison and Thomas Schulz` Ambala. Their Sergio`s Theme and Morning Lights allowing axe-man, Jonas Krag, to demonstrate his Pat Metheny chops ,and pay homage to William Pitt.
More guitar virtuosity could be found on Riccardo Giagni`s Kaunis Maa. One of the obscure sounds uncovered by Archeo Recordings, originally released by Stile Libero – Italy’s answer to ECM. Another great Archeo 2019 reissue was the jazz-tinged pop of Mario Aquaviva`s self-titled E.P.
Jazz proper came in the archival shape of Ben Tankard`s All Keyed Up on Time Capsule, and Dennis Young’s Primitive Substance on Athens Of The North. Tankard `s pioneering of MIDI technology producing results part Wally Badarou, part Herbie Hancock, while Young – ex of seminal NYC punk-funkers Liquid Liquid – moved between sleazy synth-pop, new wave, fourth world ambience, Miles Davis, and Don Cherry.
On the borders of jazz and modern classical were Danish duo Bremer McCoy. Their Utopia, on Luaka Bop, was a beatless ballet of bass, keys, and tape-delay.
Pianist Taz Modi`s Reclaimed Goods was concerned with themes of national identity – as the Brexit distraction raged on – and ecology, in places recalling Cafe Del Mar favourites, Penguin Cafe Orchestra. While 2019 also saw the return of the PCO themselves, now just Penguin Cafe. Handfuls Of Night, on Erased Tapes was inspired by band leader Arthur Jeffes` trip to the Arctic Circle and the plight of their endangered namesakes.
On the electronic front, Aural Medium reissued Vernal Equinox` New Found World. A previously privately-pressed LP from 1988 that segued arpeggiated calm and computerized chimes with racing electro / proto-techno / trance. Barry Lynn did a mean Manuel Gottsching thing for Touch Sensitive`s Wacker That label showcase. Underworld unleashed the massive Drift Series 1 boxset, which contained the ice-cold ambience of Brilliant Yes That Would Be. Underworld`s sometime collaborator, Iggy Pop, hit us with the poetry and noir landscapes of Free.
Members of Music From Memory’s “super group”, Gaussian Curve, released solo works which were a mixture of all of the above – classical minimalism, electronics, and jazz. Gigi Masin and Jonny Nash`s Postcards From Nowhere, on Melody As Truth, captured electro-acoustic improvisations executed during their three-day residency at Xavier Veilhan`s Studio Venezia. Young Marco Sterk submitted the latest installment of Island Of The Gods` Island Explorer Series. Bahasa found him transforming temple chants and percussive ceremony into celestial harmonies, wordless, vapour-like lullabies.
Newcomers Andres Y Xavi made a bold debut with their Vibraciones Y Sentimientos. Displaying a love for the productions of both DJ Shadow and those on the roster of Coyote`s Is It Balearic? imprint. Its a pretty sizable compliment to say that in places the album`s breaks rocked like David Axelrod`s, and one of its standouts – My Alibi – segues perfectly with Electronic System`s epic Skylab – itself a highlight from Lovefingers` Fingertracks Volume 1 – which was another contender for comp of the year.
Psychemagick`s Danny McLewin forged a new alliance, with Thomas Gandey, as Ghost Vision, for a 12 on Pinchy & Friends. Partnered on two tracks of kosmische. Of a very similar vibe was Flight, from a double-pack of Andi Hanley edits on Shelved Recordings.
Miss You reissued the “Movement 98” of Louise Miller’s Share The Love Around – a piece of pop lovers rock that was originally released on Wing & A Prayer in 1989 – and the Invisible City Editions` vinyl of Jeff Majors` For All Of Us finally arrived – a full year later than anticipated – in December.
Steve Hiett – In The Shade – Be With Records / Efficient Space
Tominori Hosoya – We Are Here – Scissors & Thread
Riccardo Giagni – And I Touch And I Give – Archeo Recordings
Dennis Young – Primitive Substance – Athens Of The North
Edson Natale – Viajante
Joan Bibiloni – El Sur
Kuniyuki – Guitar Song – Mule Musiq
Antoine Tato Garcia – Kikasso – KaProd
Ambala – Sergio`s Theme – Music For Dreams
Andres Y Xavi – My Alibi –
Quiet Force – For Love And Emotions – Rogue Cat Resounds
Afterlife – Clear Blue Skies (Blank & Jones Remix) – Sound Colours
Mark Barrott – Galileo – International Feel
Ghost Vision – Mirador –
Louise Miller – Share The Love – Miss You
Afrodite Se Quizer – Fora De Mim – Hello Sailor
Francois N`Gwa – N`Kene – Into The Deep Treasury
Unknown – Flight – Shelved Recordings
Coastlines – Last Summer In Rio – Flower Records
Frank Harris – Down By The Rio – Strangelove Music
Mario Aquaviva – Fortuna – Archeo Recordings
Unknown – Il Respiro – Belaepse
Ze Roberto – Lotus 72D – Mr Bongo
Ambala – Morning Lights – Music For Dreams
Toshifumi Hinata – Sayoka – Music From Memory
Bremer McCoy – Hojder – Luaka Bop
Riccardo Giagni – Kaunis Maa – Archeo Recordings
Vernal Equinox – Sunrise
Jeff Majors – Baby Daughter – Invisible City Editions
Penguin Cafe – At The Top Of The Hill They Stood – Erased Tapes
Ben Tankard – All Keyed Up (Time Capsule Seaside Edit) – Time Capsule
Taz Modi – Black Flowers
Jacob Gurevitsch – Poesia De La Mar – Music For Dreams
Seigen Ono – Suzuki Sensei Sansei
Gigi Masin & Jonny Nash – The Sea In Your Eyes
Studio Mule – Face To Face (Visible Cloaks Remix) – Studio Mule
Luis Paniagua – Neptuno – Emotional Rescue
Gigi – Nafeken – Time Capsule
Ayuo Takahashi – Mizu Iro No Kagami
Underworld – Brilliant Yes That Would Be – Caroline International
Iggy Pop – Free – Caroline International
Masahiro Sugaya – Wind Conversation – Empire Of Signs
Jeff Majors – Yasmeen – Invisible City Editions
Young Marco – The Beginning And End – Island Of The Gods