Before Akiro Ito embarked upon a solo career in 1978, he was a member of the Far East Family Band. They were a pioneering band, who are regarded as Japan’s first progressive rock band. Keyboards dominated the Far East Family Band’s music, as they fused prog rock, psychedelia and space rock. It was an innovative musical brew, one that caught the attention of Japanese record buyers in 1974.
That’s when the Far East Family Band released their debut album “The Cave” Down To The Earth. It was released on the MU Land label in 1974. “The Cave” Down To The Earth was released to critical acclaim and sold well in Japan. However, the Far East Band had set their sights higher. They wanted to the music to reach a wider audience.
So, in 1975, the Far East Family Band released Nipponjin-Join Our Mental Phase Sound. Essentially, Nipponjin-Join Our Mental Phase Sound featured some of the songs from the “The Cave” Down To The Earth sung in English. It was mixed and produced by Klaus Schulze. Nipponjin-Join Our Mental Phase Sound had the desired effect, and saw the Far East Family Band make a breakthrough in the West. Now the Far East Band were going places.
In 1976, the Far East Band returned to the recording studio, to record Parallel World. This time, they headed to the Manor Studio, in London. Producing Parallel World, were Klaus Schulze and Fumio Miyashita of the Far East Family Band. Between November 15th to December 5th 1976 Far East Band combined prog rock, psychedelia and space rock. Once Parallel World was completed, it was ready for release later in 1976.
Having made a breakthrough in the West, the Far East Family Band were keen to build upon this success. However, they were determined not to turn their back on their fans back home.
They need not have worried about this. Parallel Lines was the Far East Family Band’s best album. It was a trippy, progressive opus. The Far East Family Band were no ordinary prog rock band. No. They looked destined for greatness.
Sadly, the Far East Family Band story was almost over. They only released one further album, Mostly, it was recorded at Nippon Columbia Grand Studios. Parts were recorded at what the band referred to as Fumio’s Spaceroom. This was Fumio Miyashita’s studio. He was now the sole producer of the Far East Family Band. Fumio, a talented multi-instrumentalist was also lead vocalist, engineer, producer and mixed Tenkujin. It seemed he was the Far East Family Band’s driving force.
When the Far East Family Band released Tenkujin in November 1977, it was a fusion of disparate and diverse musical genres and influences. The Far East Band fused prog rock, psychedelia and space rock. There was even elements of disco and electronica added the the mix. It seemed Ash Ra, Tangerine Dream and Krautrock were all influencing factors on Tenkujin. While it was well received by critics, Tenkujin couldn’t quite surpass the quality of Parallel Lives. That was the Far East Family Band’s finest moment. Tenkujin meanwhile, was their swan-song.
After the release of Tenkujin, the Far East Family Band split-up. The members of the band went their separate ways. In Akiro Ito’s case, he embarked upon a solo career. Given Akiro Ito has already established a reputation as a musical pioneer, people were excited to hear what his debut album would sound like. They didn’t have long to wait.
Inner Light Of Life was released in 1978. It was a stylistic departure for Akiro Ito. Whereas the Far East Band fused prog rock, psychedelia and space rock, Inner Light Of Life was a mixture of ambient and new age music. The only common denominator was electronica. Akiro Ito seemed determined to reinvent himself.
Critics were impressed by Akiro Ito’s debut solo album. Inner Light Of Life was released on King Records. It was hailed a groundbreaking debut. Not only was the music innovative, but it an inherent beauty. There was a tranquility to some of the tracks. Unsurprisingly, great things were forecast for the Akiro Ito.
Just a year after the release if Inner Light Of Life, Akiro returned with his sophomore album Yasuragi (Mind Music). It was released on King Records 1979.
Just like Inner Light Of Life, Yasuragi (Mind Music) featured Akiro’s trademark style of electronic, new age music. It won over critics. Whether any of the critics realised that Akiro would eventually be regarded as one of Japan’s greatest new age composers?
Despite being regarded as a new age composer, Akiro Ito hadn’t turned his back on his past. Later in 1979, Akiro released his third album, Bosatu and Mugen. It was quite unlike his two previous album. Elements of psychedelia, rock, electronica and ambient music melted into one. Bosatu and Mugen seemed to be referencing Akiro’s musical past and present. However, his next album, Japanesque, was a return to the sound of Yasuragi (Mind Music). It would become one of Akiro’s cosmic classics.
For Japanesque, Akiro penned and produced the twelve new tracks. He then put together a band that featured fellow musical mavericks. His band featured musicians who weren’t just talented, imaginative and innovative. They were ambitious and keen to create music that was groundbreaking. So, with an open mind, they headed to the studio to record Japanesque.
As the band assembled, it became apparent that Akiro had put together an all-star band. The lineup featured Hyusuke Seto on acoustic guitar and koto; Hideki Ishima electric guitar and Kei Ishikawa on electric bass. Percussionist Hiroshi Okguchi was joined by pianist Nobuhiko Shinohara and Noburu Kimura on flute and saxophone. Masashi Kikuchi played shakuhachi, a Japanese end-blown flute. Completing the lineup was Akira on keyboards and synths. They recorded the twelve tracks that became Japanesque.
Before the release of Japanesque, advance copies were sent to critics. Straight away, they realised that this was the best album of Akiro’s four album career. Superlatives were almost exhausted as critics praised Akiro’s “floating electronics.” It was quite unlike anything released in Japan during 1981. Laid-back, ethereal, lysergic, floaty and spacey, it was regarded as illusionary mind music at its best. That becomes apparent as you delve into Japanesque, and let its delights wash over you.
Opening Japanesque is Source Of Life. A rumbling sound appears from the distance. It hastens a sense of drama. Then a wash of synths replicates the sound of a plane taking off. It’s definitely a case of we have life off. Dramatic, keyboards and bubbling, prog rock synths join with a piano and percussion as the arrangement builds to a crescendo. By then, there’s a noticeable Pink Floyd influence. From there, Akiro and his band combine prog rock, space rock and electronica. There’s also a sci-fi sound, as the arrangement meanders, bubbles and shimmers. A sultry saxophone proves the perfect addition as the arrangement is slowed way down. This allows you to wallow in its drama and beauty.
Seamlessly, Daybreak follows Source Of Life. The saxophone gives way to a blistering electric guitar solo. Meanwhile, drums rumble ominously. Percussion and sound effects flit in and out. Mostly, though, the focus of the listener’s attention is what can only be described as a stunning guitar solo. It’s at the heart of the track’s sound and success.
Etheral choral vocals, piano, and the saxophone combine as dramatically Birth (Prophet). A female vocal pays homage to Clare Tommy’s vocal masterclass on Pink Floyd’s Great Gig In The Sky, from Dark Side Of The Moon. The comparisons are undeniable. As she scats, harmonies soar, and the piano and bass combine. Together, they play their part in an ethereal opus.
As Love begins, a myriad of thunderous, galloping, bubbling and squeaking sounds assail you. Glacial synth add to the sci-fi sound, before a probing bass signals the drama to begin. It comes courtesy of the piano and keyboards. Along with the synths, they dominate this dramatic and cinematic soundscape.
Deliberate stabs of a keyboard open Cultivate The Teachings and Meditate Upon Them. Meanwhile, the bass and piano fill in the spaces. Slowly, thoughtfully and dramatically, the arrangement takes shape. Eventually, a heartachingly beautiful arrangement sweeps slowly along. It’s meditative sound is one of the highlights of Japanesque.
The tempo remains the same on Synchrotron Radiation-For The Children. So does the beautiful, thoughtful sound. Harmonies float above the arrangement. It’s dominated by the piano and synths. Aiding and abetting them, are a bass, searing guitar and percussion. Slowly they play, creating a wistful track that offers the opportunity to ruminate.
Literally, the arrangement to Epigram takes off. Sonically, there are similarities to Source Of Life. Banks of keyboards and synths join with ethereal harmonies and blistering guitar solo. Quickly, the arrangement reaches a crescendo, and Akiro and his band toy with the listener. Slowly, and thoughtfully they play. Harmonies, keyboards and a guitar combine, creating a reflective sounding tracks.
From there, they seamlessly cut to The Six Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, Air, (Material) and Consciousness [Mind]. A wistful sounding flute sits above a bubbling bass, washes of synths and percussion. Together they create two minutes of floaty, spiritual sounding music.
Lierally, Land Of Fire floats into being. Its ethereal sound is a joy to behold. Choral harmonies coo, as the bass probes and bubbles. Meanwhile, the flute floats dreamily above the arrangement. All seems right with the world as this dreamy sounding track cocoons you. With thirty seconds to go, Akiro throws a curveball, as the arrangement dissipates in a myriad of beeps and squeaks.
They’re the signal for the understated sound of Self Awareness to make its presence felt. It marches towards you. Gradually, the arrangement veers between ominous, funky, dreamy and lysergic. It’s as if an army dropped acid before parade.
Following the searing guitars, tender, heartfelt harmonies take centre-stage on Lord. They’re joined by the sultriest of saxophones. It’s a potent and powerful combination. That’s until midway through the track. It’s as if we’ve wandered onto the scene of a rock opera, as a ritual or incantation is performed dramatically, on what’s best described as a song of two parts.
To The Travellers closes Japanesque. It owes a debt of gratitude to Johan Bach’s Air On The G String. He’s not alone. Many prog rock musicians were inspired by classical music. Indeed, the genre was partly inspired by classical music. Here, Akiro combines harmonies, keyboards and a blistering guitar solo. In doing so, he ensures Japanesque closes on a melodic high.
Only three years after embarking upon a solo career, Akiro Ito released one of the finest albums of his career, Japanesque. Featuring twelve tracks, the music is variously beautiful, cinematic, dramatic, dreamy, ethereal, floaty, lysergic, melancholy and spiritual. Although this musical journey lasts just forty-five minutes, Japanesque leaves a lasting impression. This is a a spellbinding and innovative journey through musical genres.
During Japanesque, Akiro Ito draws inspiration from ambient, classical, electronica, experimental, new age, prog rock, psychedelia and rock. Seamlessly, musical genres melt into one as this spellbinding journey takes you to places you’ve never imagined.
That’s why, Japanesque, Akiro Ito’s fourth album, is music for the mind and the soul. It’s music to immerse yourself in. Let Akiro Ito’s innovative opus, Japanesque wash over you, cocoon and sometimes, assail you. Submit to Japanesque’s charms, nuances and subtleties and you’ll be richly rewarded.