Mood in Japan
Hiroshi Watanabe's Star Dust Orchestra Mood in Japan 10" (Nivico, 1964)
It is probably no surprise that when I am out looking for records I am buying them blind. Often I have no idea what the hell I am picking up, other than what the record cover betrays to me. In the case of Mood in Japan, I knew two things: It was Japanese and it was a 10" record. It was also cheap enough to take a chance.
I brought it home and was treated to some very cool sounds, what I thought was Japanese noir. Good enough for me and the songs exceptional enough to post here. Then I started doing some research. Hiroshi Watanabe's name was pretty much a no go. Seems that he was just one of many orchestra leaders in Japan during the 1950s & 60s, not remarkable enough for anyone to post something about him in English. There was one more name associated with this record, the arranger Tak Shindo. So I do a search for Tak Shindo and I find a great article called "Representing the Authentic: Tak Shindo's "Exotic Sound" and Japanese American History". Now I don't know about you, but when I come across an article like that about a record I am curious about my heart starts to flutter.
I am not going to run through the details of Tak Shindo's career but I will point out a few things: Shindo's music is not Japanese noir, in that it is jazz influenced big band music with noir overtones made by Japanese composers. For that to be so, Shindo would have had to have been Japanese. He wasn't he was Japanese American, born in the United States in the 1920s (in my hometown of Sacramento!) and raised in Los Angeles and Manzanar Relocation Camp. After a brief stint in the US Army, he started working as a film composer, scoring music for Tokyo Joe, Sayonara, and Escapade in Japan, as well as TV shows like Gunsmoke. He backed Rod McKuen on the classic album The Yellow Unicorn and made a series of exotica records. He taught at UCLA and made a documentary on his experience in Manzanar (Encounter with the Past), as well as composed music for the Okinawa Peace Memorial. And he worked in Vegas composing for Siegfried & Roy.
But all that would be just a nice story if not for his music, a very cool noir jazz sound with Japanese rhythmic parts. Recorded in 1964 and released only in Japan, Mood in Japan is ten songs of greatness. There is a nice dark tone to the songs that does not sacrifice the swing. Enjoy.
Never knew what the title was, so thanks!
WOW! This is amazing stuff. Thank you so much.