BOOK TWO: Chapter 11


Note: It's essential at this juncture in the narrative to labour the point that, as I made my discoveries of the records discussed in this chapter only through obsessive trawling and patient sifting, it has invariably been an arduously hit-and-miss affair. So, unless you have wads of cash and are not easily heartbroken, please don't leap aboard the same experiment and buy something just because it's by an artist mentioned here and it's from approximately the same period. I know that's a fair modus operandi with regard to most Western music. But I've spent a fortune buying Japanese stuff because it has a great jacket, and contains performances by my favourite musicians, and yet the record often still sucks. Without a guaranteed recommendation from one in the know, you are still On Your Own.

Only When Miles Gave the Go-Ahead

In order to better comprehend the Japanese rock scene of the late '60s and '70s, it's essential now for us to conduct a brief study of selected areas of the Japanese jazz scene. For a great deal of Japan's best progressive and experimental music came via jazz, and the avant-garde and free-jazz scenes especially. But first, it must be explained that, while jazz's roots as a night-club entertainment first became challenged in America by politicised black jazzmen playing free jazz - obviously with heavily loaded social symbolism - around the time of the 1964 civil-rights movement, no such challenge took place in Japan. Instead, the mid-'60s Japanese jazz scene continued to take its lead from Miles Davis, whose 'cool' they had long idolised, whose style and lifestyle they aped, and whose refusal to adopt the late-'50s/early-'60s free-jazz stylings of Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor and their ilk ensured that no Japanese jazz players could consider moving into a free-jazz area, at least until Miles himself had deemed such a move acceptable.

In the USA, Miles's refusal to embrace free jazz separated him temporarily from many of his black jazz brethren, to whom free jazz was, by the mid-'60s, inextricably linked to civil rights, Black Power and the rejection by black Americans of their slave owners' Christianity in favour of a new and radically Afrocentric worldview. And so, whilst Albert Ayler and John Coltrane's free blowing got them adopted by the 'Don't Trust Anyone Over 30' hippie white-rock scenes in the UK and USA, the still be-sui ted and none-more-debonair Miles Davis - already a grandfather and pushing forty - was labelled 'straight', 'stiff' and 'square' throughout that period, by a radicalised youth culture too young, too ignorant of the past, and too concerned with the Right Now to care that Miles it was whose constant and sustained forward-thinking attitudes had instigated umpteen new jazz forms from the so-called 'Cool Jazz' of the late '40s, via the Hard Bop of the mid-'50s, to the modal and orchestrated jazz of the late '50s.

In Japan, however, where none of the aforementioned black cultural concerns had any political or racial resonance, 1964 was marked not by civil-rights protests but by the storming debut of the Miles Davis Quintet, at the Tokyo-hosted World Jazz Festival. Then comprised of future jazz legends Herbie Hancock on piano, feisty teenage drummer Tony Williams and statuesque giant Ron Carter, Miles's stylish and urbane band systematically destroyed the audience at Tokyo's Kosenenkin Hall, reinforcing in the Japanese their long accepted view of what a true jazzman should be. Thereafter, Japanese jazz through the '60s remained a stylish late-night entertainment for a hard-working recently Westernised people whose weekends were seen by the majority as an opportunity to drink and dance excessively at the local jazz kissa, or night-club. To the majority of post-war Japanese, jazz was a symbol of 'cool' and of sharp dressing, but nothing more. Indeed, the concept of 'radicalized jazz' was something of an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Furthermore, the burgeoning Japanese rock scene was itself highly reliant on Japan's jazz musicians, who, having taken years to master this alien Western musical form, were those most readily equipped to provide the steady and sustained back-beat required by Japan's purveyors of commercially recorded rock'n'roll and pop music. And as so much of Japan's rock'n'roll and pop music was created with the aid of a highly professional jazz community in thrall to the Miles Davis 'cool school', much of the Davis orthodoxy - the sharp dressing, the outward displays of control - therefore filtered down to rock'n'roll and pop musicians via the Japanese jazz scene. This situation was by no means negative, for Miles's presence and enduring star qualities were such that almost all Japanese jazz players attempted to present themselves with the same élan as their charismatic icon, with the result that several Japanese jazz musicians - such as saxophonist Sadao Watanabe, trumpeter Terumasa Hino and guitarist Kazumi Watanabe - became huge stars, scoring major chart hits, and appearing regularly on TV, hosting quiz shows and endorsing international products. Indeed, most Japanese over-forties nowadays remember Sadao Watanabe less for his sax-playing than for his many commercials for Nissan cars, Bravas men's cosmetics and the Yamaha Townie motorbike.

By the late 1960s, however, Miles Davis's reluctance to join the neo-African band-wagon championed by his younger and more radicalised black colleagues had begun to affect his record sales dramatically, and the trumpeter found himself in the invidious position of supporting rock bands at the behest of his Columbia Records boss Clive Davis. Rejecting free jazz was one thing, but Miles had also been incredibly slow in joining in with the great Electric Experiment that had allowed jazz musicians to compete with rock'n'rollers by amplifying their acoustic instruments. Like many jazzers, Miles had initially dismissed electric guitars and electric keyboards as 'children's toys' unworthy of his time. But Miles's mind was changed in 1967, first by the guitar virtuosity of Jimi Hendrix and then by Joe Zawinul's electric piano performance on Man 'Cannonball' Adderley's Top 20 R&B hit 'Mercy Mercy Mercy'. [1]

Taking their guru's lead, musicians of the Japanese jazz scene now jumped aboard the experimental, free-jazz and electronic bandwagon. But what made their experiments so pertinent to readers of this book is that, unlike those of many Contemporary British and American jazzers, these experiments were undertaken by players who had long supplemented their incomes through pop, soul, R&B and rock'n'roll music. Lacking the snobbery of so many Western jazz musicians, the Japanese now threw their considerable experience into creating a wild and unprovenanced hybrid music that, even today, sounds shockingly new. If there's any big problem with the music they created, however, it's mostly the hit-and-miss nature of the records they recorded with regard to our Western ears. Being jazz-based, the records are often far too traditionally 'jazz' and not enough experiment. Elsewhere, the jazz content is suppressed in favour of rock, soul or even pure experiment of the type found in jazz-based Krautrock such as Xhol Caravan, Et Cetera and their ilk. If you imagine a kind of musique concrète approach to jazz, or even a kind of Cosmic Couriers/Cosmic Jokers freewheeling take on John Coltrane-style free jazz then you are probably close to the pleasure centres that this music hits. If that description appals you, then it's probably best to bale out of this chapter right now. If not, however, please read on. Oh, and er ... Look Out!

Hair Bequeaths Us ELECTRUM Which Disappoints, but UGANDA Nails It

As we have seen at several different points in this Japrocksampler, the great coming-together of musical styles that took place in 1969 reached its symbolic epicentre in the corridors of Shibuya's Toyoko Gekijo Theatre, during the rehearsals for Hair. When the infamous drug busts of February 1970 caused the show to be cancelled, however, drummer Akira Ishikawa and jazz guitarist Kiyoshi Sugimoto from the Hair musical ensemble, fearful of dissipating their vibe or having it evaporate altogether, decided to assemble a band from within the massed ranks of backstage conspirators with which to record an album. And so, billed as Akira Ishikawa & Count Buffaloes, a hastily assembled sextet entered the studio in the summer of 1970 to record their debut LP ELECTRUM. The Count Buffaloes were completed by sax player Ken Muraoka, bass player Masaaki Terakawa, and piano players Hiroaki Suzuki and Masahiko Satoh, the latter supplying all of the material for the recording session. Unfortunately for we fans of experimental rock'n'roll (and experimental music in general), there was nothing contained within the grooves of ELECTRUM to overly excite us. However, the jams had very definitely been kicked out at last, and Akira Ishikawa jumped aboard a plane to Uganda in the late summer of 1970 to fulfil his longstanding ambition to research African percussion music. Like many Japanese jazz musicians, Akira Ishikawa suffered from the terminal sickness of working too hard. Now, having believed that he'd have at least two years of guaranteed employment on the Hair musical, Ishikawa used this disruption to his life to break free of all constraints.

Landing in the Ugandan capital Kampala, in Baganda province, Ishikawa headed for the plains to the northwest, where the river Katu denotes the border. Having dreamed of visiting the country since he'd read Winston Churchill's description of it as 'The Pearl of Africa', the urban Ishikawa was initially overwhelmed by the endless plateaux. But once he'd got stoned (he later wrote of his surprise at being able to buy excellent grass for one penny per spliff), the drummer was next overwhelmed by the beauty of the Ugandan ladies, and later wrote of how he'd been unable to resist the advances of '3000 yen women with bad body odour'. [2] Ishikawa returned to Japan intoxicated by his Ugandan experiences and full of ideas for a new LP. He decided to retain bass player Masaaki Terakawa and sax player Ken Muraoka from the first count Buffaloes album, but saw that ELECTRUM had failed on account of its jazz orthodoxy. Ishikawa now called Hair guitarist Kimio 'Foodbrain' Mizutani to replace Kiyoshi Sugimoto's bubbling, spangly solos with fuzzed-out feedback and pure noise. In the studio, the Ugandanised Ishikawa asked the jazz guys to forget their roots and 'to play with an African spirit', explaining that 'the most important thing was the music's poetic truth and that it was not influenced by American music'. [3] The results were remarkable for the emptiness and space that Ishikawa achieved on UGANDA. For, although credited once again to Akira Ishikawa & Count Buffaloes, the drummer had managed to compose an entirely non-jazz work that lapsed only rarely into clichéd 'Africana'. Most of the record was ritualistic, strung out, percussion-based and -led, but filled with epic and confrontationally noisy guitar mayhem.

How Masahiko Satoh Transcended Jazz through his German Influences

Perhaps the jazz musician whose career gained most from the cancellation of Hair was Akira Ishikawa's friend and cohort Masahiko Satoh, who had written the ELECTRUM LP for Count Buffaloes. For it was via Hair that Satoh came to work with fuzzed-out guitar freak Kimio Mizutani, whose errant muse was to steer Satoh's compositions temporarily out of jazz, via experimental rock, into some of the most remarkable and unclassifiable music of the early '70s. However, it's essential to understand that Masahiko Satoh also conducted a parallel and highly orthodox jazz career throughout this period, mainly with his trio. His early-70s catalogue of hidden jewels can, therefore, be located only by traipsing through a minefield of disappointingly orthodox jazz statements. But even having added that caveat, it is still fair to state that Masahiko Satoh was one of those rare composers whose melted plastic brain allowed him to embrace and straddle successfully all and every new musical style without appearing to have merely jumped on the latest convenient bandwagon. As a jazz soloist, arranger, free player, or even as organist on the more extreme Japanese rock LPs of the time, Masahiko Satoh successfully navigated his Way through it all. Indeed, in this way, Satoh is probably the Japanese equivalent of German free spirit Wolfgang Dauner, with whom he played in the very early 1970s.

Born in Tokyo, in 1941, Masahiko Satoh's earliest influences came from Olivier Messiaen and Yuji Takahashi, although the pianist earned his living playing in various jazz combos in Japan, Europe and the USA throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s. Between 1966 and '68, the young Satoh studied at California's Berkeley Music School, after which his trio won the prestigious 1969 Swing Journal Award for their debut album PALLADIUM. Soon after, Satoh composed the ELECTRUM material for Ishikawa's Count Buffaloes, then arranged and played piano on the Columbia Records LP PERSPECTIVE by the ever experimental Toshiyuki Miyami & the New Herd Orchestra. [4] For his next trio LP DEFORMATION, recorded in concert at Tokyo's Sankei Hall, Satoh asked his musicians to respond to a reel-to-reel tape recorder playing segments of the New Herd's woodwind section, and things started to get interesting. A pure solo jazz LP HOLOGRAPHY came next, but the arrival of German jazz guitarist Attila Zoller, in summer 1970, brought an entirely fresh perspective to Satoh's work. In truth, the resulting Zoller/Satoh pure-jazz collaboration LP DUOLOGUE is outside the parameters of this book, but it was Zoller's tales of German musicians' determination to add uniquely German elements into their progressive jazz scene that opened Satoh's mind to the idea of incorporating purely Japanese elements in his music.

Masahiko Satoh and Stomu Yamashita's METEMPSYCHOSIS & Other Tales of Takehisa Kosugi-Informed Percussion Overload

Satoh's opportunity to create a 'uniquely Japanese' jazz came at the beginning of 1971, when he was commissioned by Columbia Records to write a futuristic work for the 24-year-old percussion prodigy Stomu Yamashita, then already over a decade into his career as a soloist. Yamashita had long been hailed as the 'world's greatest percussionist' by such esteemed figures as John Cage and Aram Khatchaturian; his early works were stunning fundamentalist broadsides of gagaku and other Japanese-based ritualistic percussion epics. His dynamic and extrovert showmanship, long hair waving and capes flaring, had brought such excitement to his performances that composers Toru Takemitsu, Hans Werner Henze and Peter Maxwell-Davies had already composed long percussion pieces especially for the young Japanese. Masahiko Satoh's piece for Stomu Yamashita took its cue from the orchestral arrangements composed the previous year for the New Herd Orchestra, and seventeen of those same New Herd musicians were invited to perform the epic work. Entitled METEMPSYCHOSIS, the composition was recorded in one single session on 27th January 1971, and was an avant-garde masterpiece of barely controlled cosmic chao, featuring an outrageous wind section comprised of four trumpeters, four trombonists, four sax players and a bassoonist. Stomu Yamashita and New Herd drummer Yoshisaburo Toyozumi rumbled and raged across Satoh's two side-long pieces, creating a music that was way beyond jazz and approached a kind of Godhead union between Sun Ra and the Cosmic Jokers. Its incredible artistic success so inspired Yamashita that he next asked Masahiko Satoh to create a similar work for a far-smaller ensemble. Hitting his stride, Satoh then enlisted the aid of Taj Mahal Travellers' leader and master improviser Takehisa Kosugi, over whose swaying and heavily FX'd violin, Satoh laid droning, atonal Yamaha organ. The ensemble was completed by percussionist Hideakira Sakurai, whose Japanese percussion, shamisen and koto united with Yamashita's own arsenal of percussion to create the massive hallucinatory piece later released as the London Records LP SUNRISE FROM WEST SEA LIVE and credited to Stomu Yamashita & the Horizon.

This was the uniquely Japanese music that Satoh had for so long been threatening, and he immediately set about the task of creating his own similar ensemble. Satoh contacted his producer friend and Polydor Records label boss Ikuzo Orita, who agreed to record and release whatever the composer wished. So inspired was Satoh that, less than one week later, he was ensconced in Polydor Studio 1 with his trio drummer Masahiko Togashi and three percussionists, Joe Mizuki, Hozumi Tanaka and Isamu Harada, all of whom had backgrounds in gagaku ritual. Naming this scratch quintet Epos, Satoh recorded over the course of just one day a huge three-part quadraphonic percussion album entitled ETERNITY. Clearly inspired by Kosugi's own Taj Mahal Travellers, and subtitled '4Ch Niyoru Dagakki to Okesutora No Tameno Konpojishon' (Composition for Percussion & Orchestra in Quadraphonic), ETERNITY was an alienated and epic avant-garde wash of empty space music.

Polydor label boss Orita now believed that it was the turn of 'super session' guitar gunslinger Kimio Mizutani to make his own album, and so the producer sought the aid of both Masahiko Satoh's keyboard-playing and compositional skills, in order to create a Japanese equivalent of Frank Zappa's HOT RATS. Unfortunately, while the results were indeed charming, Mizutani's A PATH THROUGH HAZE suffered from an over-compressed mix and too many restrained performances from Mizutani himself, who clearly felt out of his depth surrounded by so many much older jazz heavy-weights. Furthermore, the Satoh-composed title track was a meek affair that disappointed its composer so much that he decided to re-record it with his old German guitarist friend Attila Zoller. The resulting album, confusingly also entitled A PATH THROUGH HAZE, was once again comprised of orthodox jazz material that lies entirely outside the realms of this book save for its sublime title track, which was a quarter-of-an-hour-long tour de force.

Next came Satoh's most legendary album AMALGAMATION. Released in mid-1971, it seems most likely that Masahiko Satoh's primary inspiration for the album's recording was his Tokyo collaboration with German pianist Wolfgang Dauner on the duet LP PIANOLOGY. Dauner had long been experimenting with ring-modulated Hohner clavinets and pianos, the results of which were best seen on his albums FREE ACTION, FÜR and OUTPUT on Germany's ECM Records.

After the heavy drum-centred nirvana of AMALGAMATION, Masahiko Satoh decided to retain the same formula for his 1972 album YAMATAI-FU, on which he collaborated with band leader Toshiyuki Miyami and his New Herd Orchestra. Unable to summon the return of Louis Hayes for the recording, but still demanding exhausting drum workouts to propel the new piece along, Satoh was forced to make huge demands of his own trio drummer Masaru Hiromi, around whom Satoh composed blasts of atonal yet euphoric brass sections to create a mighty work that was, arguably, even greater than its predecessor. Over three simply titled works of kosmische chaos, 'Ichi' (First), 'Ni' (Second) and 'San' (Third), drummer Togashi unleashed a fury worthy of John Coltrane's own Philly Joe Jones. By 1973, Satoh had established a new highly experimental trio named Garandoh, with former Epos percussionist Hozumi Tanaka and electric cellist Keiki Midorikawa. This trio performed at the 1973 jazz festival 'Inspiration & Power', and appeared on its wonderful accompanying double-LP of the same name. Unfortunately, Satoh's work thereafter drifted inexorably back into orthodox jazz, and his post-l973 records are of little appeal to non-jazz fans.

Stomu Yamashita & His Brilliantly Erratic Early Career

Next, we move swiftly on to a brief discussion of Masahiko Satoh's friend and sometime collaborator Stomu Yamashita. Unfortunately for this exceptional percussionist, rarely if ever has an artist's career been so derailed by outside influences and international possibilities. After spending his adolescence under the nurturing and watchful eye of his conductor father, who was leader of Kyoto Philharmonic Orchestra, the international success of Yamashita's early recordings brought umpteen invitations to work in Europe, most especially in Paris and London. In late 1971, Yamashita's fabulous percussion-only LP RED BUDDHA was prepared for release by the French Barclay label and Britain's own London Records, but only with the caveat that he change the final element of his name which, he was told, sounded too much like 'shitter'. Substituting an apostrophe for the offending 'i', the renamed Yamash'ta soon found himself drawn to the burgeoning English jazz-rock scene, and signed to Island Records with his new all-English jazz-rock ensemble Come to the Edge, led by percussionist Morris Pert. Thereafter, it was all downhill for Yamash'ta, his band and record label opting to showcase him as 'The Man from the East', an exotic freak whose proto-Rick Wakeman garb and dervish-like agility became entirely secondary to the worthy chuntering of his unremarkable band. Gone were the twenty-minute gagaku epics, the radical percussion assaults punctuated by Masahiko Satoh's visionary atonal brass arrangements, and the bewitching Takehisa Kosugi-informed drone-a-thons of his early career. All this was deemed to be too monolithic for British ears, and each subsequent LP release served further to integrate the boy wonder into UK jazz rock. And so, by 1975, Yamash'ta's genius had been diluted into the multi-media spectaculars RAIN DOG and GO, featuring such unlikely guests as Steve Winwood, jazz-guitar star Al Di Meola and Santana percussionist Michael Shrieve. Eventually, repelled by his overly modified public persona, the re-re-named Yamashita retired temporarily to a Buddhist temple in 1980, eventually re-emerging to create the kind of meditative music that fans of his Ur-muse should have been able to expect all along.

Masayuki Takayanagi's New Direction for the Arts

Our brief excavation of Japan's free-jazz underworld concludes with the splattered oblivion of electric guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi, one of those extreme mavericks who combined virtuosity and extensive grasp of musical theory with radically atonal free-rock amp destruction, inspiring and pissing off contemporaries throughout the entirety of his forty-year career. Nicknamed 'Jojo' and infamous for his wantonly outcast broadsides, he was notably excommunicated without trial by the jazz community of the late '60s for having described them as 'a bunch of losers' in the press. Plotting a musical trajectory somewhere between the free rock of the MC5's 'Gold' and Albert Ayler's 'Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe', Jojo's incredible power quartet New Directions for the Arts whipped up an a-rhythmical hurricane so frenzied that it became positively peaceful right there in the eye of the storm. In place of a bass player, Jojo substituted cellist Ino Nobuyoshi, and deployed percussionists Joe Mizuki and Hiroshi Yamazaki so as to provide an accompaniment more akin to organic aero-engines than to anything human. Some say his greatest work was 1970's MASS PROJECTION, others cite 1972's FREE FORM SUITE, or even 1982's LONELY WOMAN, while my mind's just a blur from the sonic soup that Jojo tips over my melted plastic brain every time I whip his records out. His guitar-playing rings the turkey necks of every other free-guitar wailer I've listened to, and his most obliterated music exerts such G-force that it's difficult to stay awake in the presence of his records. Despite these wild guitar manglings, Jojo's career began comparatively conventionally in the early '50s as a staff writer on Japan's prestigious jazz magazine Swing Journal, and he was playing in his own late-'60s bossanova outfit when he made the momentous decision to play free jazz. Some cite Terry Kath's 'Free Form Guitar' on Chicago's debut LP CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY as his unlikely Source of inspiration, but where Takayanagi took it was far beyond the valley of 'If You Leave Me Now'. When Takayanagi died of liver failure in June 1991, his audiences had steadily reduced with each new out-there-a-minute move he'd made. But every shrill, distended, shrieking note I've ever heard this guy play screamed 'Jojo was a man'.

In Conclusive

In a book such as Japrocksampler, there can be no end to this chapter, for it's barely a scratch, a superficial graze of an unfathomably deep and atonal world awaiting excavation. For the Japanese are so faithful to music that moves them that I could write an entire book of a similar size to this Japrocksampler just on a discussion of the music that Japanese jazz musicians made in response to Miles Davis's funkathon experiments of 1975, a music so extreme that only Nippon Columbia agreed to release such material. When others lose the faith, so to speak, the Japanese do not. They just keep on excavating and digging deeper. Unfortunately, for our purposes we must yet again move on...

Footnotes: (go back)

  1. Paul Tingen, Miles Beyond (Billboard 2001).
  2. Akira Ishikawa's own sleevenotes, printed on the back cover of the Toshiba Records LP UGANDA.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Toshiyuki Miyami & His New Herd Orchestra was an orchestral big band whose material covered all bases from late-'40s swing to pure atonal avant-garde. Miyami was a bizarre combination of Gil Evans, Duke Ellington and Teo Macero, who appears to have been equally at home in all settings. His band provided the extraordinary brass and strings for some of my favourite experimental Japanese percussion LPs, but I've still to discover where Miyami fitted into all this, or whether he 'fitted in' at all.

Masahiko Satoh Select Discography

.METEMPSYCHOSIS (with Stomu Yamashita)1971Columbia

Stomu Yamashita Select Discography

.RED BUDDHA1971Barclay

Masayuki Takayanagi Select Discography