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.


The Snake

Jean Kassapian The Snake 45 (Kassap, 197?)

With a long "sssssssssssssssssss" The Snake starts and BAMM! one thunderfuck of a funky beat comes in, some clapping, and then Jean Kassapian and his flute. Someone in the background shouts, "Yeah!" and it is quite an understatement. Intended as a belly dance tune, The Snake is one of the best funky instrumentals ever made. Of course it all starts with the beat, which, as I just said and you will soon hear, is a monster, perfect in the pocket drums which like the best funky drums are a meal all by themselves. The flute creates a great atmosphere; it throws the Middle Eastern sound into the song. Snake-like? Sure, but not while taking away from the groove.

I am guessing that Jean Kassapian is Kassap Records of Toronto, Canada. The two references to Kassapian the musician that I've found tell me that he was a multi-instrumentalist, though his main instrument was not the flute but the guitar. He has played on other people's records and regularly gigged in Ontario, mostly backing up belly dancers. The record has some notoriety among club dejays, though more people tend to talk about it than have heard the song. Now you get to hear it. I've chosen not to post the B-side, a pleasant enough belly dance tune, but nothing spectacular.


Music of Guatemala

The San Lucas Band Music of Guatemala LP (ABC Command, 1975)

Welcome to one of my favorite records. I first heard The San Lucas Band about 20 years ago at the bookstore I co-run. It was sitting in a small stack of records, next to the stereo. These were Peter's records (Peter being "the nice guy at the bookstore"), mostly folk, but a few noisy gems like Bitches Brew and Coltraine's Om. One evening, I put on the San Lucas Band album and was transfixed. What came out of the speakers was some of the most fucked up, otherworldly, Shaggs like music that I had ever heard. While the (seemingly) disjointed sound initially intrigued me, there was something else that kept me coming back. That something is that The San Lucas Band is genuine. It is real and there is power in that realness. The more I listened to it the more I heard things that held the band together, the weave of sounds and how the instruments fell (almost literally) in with the others to create a groove. When you first hear this stuff, you will think, "Soriano, what the fuck are you talking about? These guys sound like they are so high they can hardly play." Yeah, yeah, and that is what the idiots who call this "One of the worst records ever made" say. Listen to this a few times and if it doesn't sink in come back to it in a month or two. Meanwhile listen to Albert Ayler's Truth is Marching In and compare it to Marcha Numero Seis. Hear something?

So....I was hooked. I asked Peter what he was gonna do with the record and he told me he was giving it to his friend Tom. Damn! I took the record home and taped it and placed The San Lucas Band's Music of Guatemala on my want list. It sat there as number one for years. I looked in every record store I went into. I searched online and nothing came up. None ever showed up on ebay and no listings on gemm. One day, a couple years ago, I rode my bike downtown to a record store. I was going to look for some odd Top 40 song from years past, the name of which I don't recall. I couldn't find the record I was looking for and was about to leave when I asked the girl behind the counter where the world music section was. She pointed to a rack and I walked over, found the Latin America card, flipped through a couple records and there it was! The price was $4.99 and I was stoked. I went to the register and got rung up, all the while thinking, "You are selling me a thousand dollar record for only five bucks and you have no idea!" Now the San Lucas Band LP is not worth a grand, but it certain isn't a $5 record. Fifteen years the record had eluded me and now I held it in my hands and soon it would be playing on my turntable at home. A small triumph, you say, ahhh but you do not know, do you?

Besides having the music at hand, one of the things that made finding the record so special was that I now had access to the liner notes. For years, all I knew was that the San Lucas Band were from Guatemala. I did not know that they were Cakchiquel-Maya Indians and lived in a mountan village called Lan Lucas Toliman. I didn't know that the band had been in existence since 1922, had a rotating membership, and was considered a significant part of San Lucas village life. The band played at parties, funerals, dances, pretty much any social or religious occasion that called for music. Also from the liner notes, I was able to track down one of the women who recorded the San Lucas Band, an ethnomusicologist named Linda O'Brien. I learned that there was hours of tape of the San Lucas Band (who knows how well preserved) and that she had written more on the band and their music. We also discussed me reissuing the record, but got stuck on who in fact owned the rights, her or ABC. No reissue followed.
Here are two cuts that are pretty representative of the San Lucas Band. Marcha Numero Seis is a funeral dirge or marcha, one that they play on Good Friday, in the tradition of village bands in Old Spain. Noches Eternas is one of the San Lucas Band's rancheras. These were recorded in 1975. I hope you are as fascinated with the San Lucas Band as I am.

PS: It has been a while since I updated Gibble Gabble. Check it out. There is new stuff up.

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