Midnight In Tokyo Volume 2,

Label: Studio Mule Japan.

Release Date: ‘27th’ July 2018.

During the seventies and eighties, Japan still had a thriving and vibrant jazz scene, although many artists and bands had turned their attention to fusion. This includes the thirteen artists and bands  that feature on the new compilation Midnight In Tokyo Volume 2,which will be released by Studio Mule Japan on the ‘27th’ July 2018. 

Midnight In Tokyo Volume 2 is a compilation of Japanese fusion that was compiled by Dubby, who runs the online record store Ondas. His latest compilation of fusion features thirteen hidden gems that are regarded as perfect nighttime listening in Tokyo. It’s also another opportunity to discover the delights of Japanese jazz which has been growing in popularity outside of Japan over the last couple of years. However, by the seventies, Japanese jazz had come long way in just over thirty years.

Especially since it was illegal for Japanese music fans to listen to jazz during the World War II. The ban was only lifted after Japan’s defeat and unconditional surrender in August 1945. 

Jazz fans were now able to hear jazz on the radio, and watch the allied forces bands play jazz in concert halls across Japan. Some of the bands featured some of the top American jazz musicians who were serving their country. Sometimes, these musicians spent time collaborating with local jazz musicians who were keen to learn from some of the names they had only heard on the radio. However, in 1952 when the allied forces left Japan, and returned home musicians like Frank Foster, Harold Lamb and Oliver Nelson had formed firm friendships with local jazzers. By then, they had played an important part in the cultural rebirth of Japan. 

After six years of war, a new era began for Japanese jazz musicians who were determined to make up for lost time. There had been no winners after six years of war. While jazz had been banned in Japan during the war, many British and American jazz musicians had been called up and were serving their country. However, many jazz musicians spent war years playing in army bands where they were usually out of harm’s way. Now that they had returned home, they like their Japanese counterparts were determined to make up for lost time.

By the mid-fifties, a jazz scene had developed in Japan, during what was later referred to as the “funky period.” However, much of the jazz music being made in Japan had been influenced by American jazz and particularly the West Coast cool jazz and East Coast hard bop. Many Japanese musicians were collecting albums on Blue Note and Prestige which heavily influenced them. It would only be later that some would find their own voice. 

Meanwhile, many of the top American jazz musicians no longer serving in the US Army, and had returned home. Some joined new or existing bands while some musicians put together new bands. Initially, they returned to their local circuit where they tried to pickup where they had left off. This changed a few years later.

In the late-fifties and early sixties, many of these musicians who had played in Japan during World War II were keen to return to a country where so many loved and appreciated jazz music. They made the long journey to Japan where they were reunited with some old friends.

During this period, Miles Davis, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and  Horace Silver all made the long journey to Japan where they received a warm and enthusiastic welcome. Whether any of these legendary musicians were aware at the time, they were playing a part in the cultural rebirth of Japan. Soon, many Japanese jazz musicians weren’t just content to copy Miles Davis, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Horace Silver sonically, but were determined copy them stylistically. Before long, Japanese  jazz musicians were soon sporting the same preppy Ivy League clothes as their American counterparts. 

Despite many people enjoying the visits of American jazz musicians, the Japanese authorities heard that some musicians had been arrested on drugs offences. They tightened the law as they didn’t want musicians with drug convictions visiting the new Japan and corrupting their youth. However, with the laws tightened, much fewer American jazz musicians visited Japan. Those that visited, played in packed concert halls and continue to influence Japanese jazzers. 

Not all Japanese jazz musicians were inspired by their American counterparts by the mid-sixties as homegrown musicians were making their presence felt. Especially pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi and saxophonist and flautist Sadao Watanabe who were among the leading lights of the vibrant Japanese jazz scene.

Toshiko Akiyoshi had been invited to study at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1955. However, it took a year of wrangling, diplomacy and arm twisting before Toshiko Akiyoshi was able to enrol at Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1956. By then, Toshiko Akiyoshi was already making a name for herself outside of her native Japan and would enjoy a long and successful career.

Five years later, Sadao Watanabe released his eponymous debut album on King Records. The following year, 1962, Sadao Watanabe followed in Toshiko Akiyoshi’s footsteps and enrolled at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He too was on the cusp of a successful career.

Back home in Japan, many other Japanese jazz musicians were content to draw inspiration from their American counterparts, but decided to forge a new style of modern jazz befitting the new modern Japan. Leading this movement in the late-sixties was Sadao Watanabe whose music was progressive, experimental,  exciting and ambitious and reflected the musical influences ad genre he had absorbed. Soon, Sadao Watanabe was influencing some of the musicians who were at the forefront of a jazz revolution.

Some of Japan’s top up-and-coming jazz musicians joined Sadao Watanabe’s band, where they learned from one of the country’s top jazzers. For these musicians this was akin to a musical apprenticeship, before they headed off to play their part in the jazz revolution that took place between the late-sixties and early eighties. 

During the Japanese jazz revolution, some musicians changed direction and started playing fusion. Its roots could be traced to America in the late-sixties, when some jazz musicians started  combining jazz harmony and improvisation with rock, funk, and R&B. This marked the birth of fusion, which grew in popularity. 

Soon, fusion had arrived on the shores of Britain, Europe and Japan, and some critics felt that it ensured that jazz stayed musically relevant.

In the pre-fusion years jazz was no longer as popular as it once was, and by the late-sixties it looked as if jazz was going the same way as the blues. Fortunately, both blues and jazz were reinvented and stayed relevant.  

Jazz begat fusion which during the seventies and eighties grew in popularity in Japan. This includes amongst the artists and bands on Midnight In Tokyo Volume 2. This included Genji Sawai, Today’s Latin Project, Air Suspension Club Band, Yasunori Soryo and Jim Rocks, King Kong Paradise, Om, Parachute, Keichi Oku and Safari. They’re just some of the artists that feature on Midnight In Tokyo Volume 2.

It opens with Hikobae from Genji Sawai’s album Sowaka, which was released on the Agharta label in April 1985. Hikobae has a slow, clunky electronic arrangement where Genji Sawai plays synths and a wailing saxophone. They’re part of a genre-melting track that where Genji Sawai and his band combine elements of electronica, free jazz and fusion to create an ambitious and  moderne track.

Very different is Danza Lucumí which is taken from Today’s Latin Project’s 1983 eponymous album. It was released on the Discomate label and meanders melodically, meditatively and dreamily along as Today’s Latin Project combine electronica, fusion and Latin music.

In 1979, Shigeru Suzuki released the album White Heat on the Invitation. It was his sixth solo album and featured On The Coast which is soulful and funky as Shigeru Suzuki combines elements of boogie fusion and jazz-funk seamlessly. 

In the Hot City was taken from Air Suspension Club Band’s 1982 debut album Another World. It was released on the Vap label and featured In the Hot City which is one of the album’s highlights. No wonder with Air Suspension Club Band seamlessly combining funk, fusion, jazz and soul during a track that is perfect late night listening. 

Yasunori Soryo and Jim Rocks Singers collaborated on two albums including So Long America…in 1982. It was released on the Victor label and featured So Long America one of Yasunori Soryo and Jim Rocks Singers’ finest hours. They combine synths and uber soulful vocals during a wistful ballad which is funky, soulful and has stood the test of time.

Jugando’s one and only album Samba Kathy was released on Trio Records in 1980, and featured Twisty. Initially, it features a horn, the arrangement that skanks along before later, rasping horns, harmonies and a Hammond organ play their part in Twisty’s sunshine sound. 

King Kong Paradise released their sophomore album 1000倍青い空になれ on Bourbon Records in 1979. It featured what’s one of their finest recordings Samarkand. This carefully crafted example J-Fusion is by far the highlight of Midnight In Tokyo Volume 2.

Between 1980 and 1981 Katsutoshi Morizono and Bird’s Eye View released two albums. This included Spirits which was released on the Electric Bird label in 1981. It features Imagery, where Katsutoshi Morizono and Bird’s Eye View seamlessly combine electronica, funk and fusion. 

Another group who only released the one album was Om whose 1983 album Solar Wind was their only offering. It was released on Casablanca and featured Windmill, which is a beautiful, breezy track where jazz and folk are combined by Om. 

Parachute were a prolific group who released five albums between 1980 and 1980 on the Agharta label. This included their 1980 debut album From Asian Port. It featured Mystery Of Asian Port which was released as single in 1980, and is an unmistakably Japanese sounding track where electronica, funk and fusion combine seamlessly. 

On the ‘21st’ April 1985 Yuji Toriyama released the album A Taste Of Paradise on the Agharta label. One of its highlights was Bay/Sky Provincetown 1977 a melodic mid-tempo track where electronic and fusion are combined by Yuji Toriyama 

When Keiichi Oku’s released his 1981 album The Good Bad Girl on JVC, it featured Heat Wave. It’s smooth and soulful, thanks to the vocal which plays a starring role in a song where electronica, jazz-funk and soul are seamlessly combined.

Closing Midnight In Tokyo Volume 2 is Safari Day Dream At The Bob’s Beach. It’s taken from Safari’s eponymous album which was released in July 1984 on the Vap label. Safari never miss a beat and close the compilation on a high as funk, fusion, jazz and even a hint of reggae are combined on this slice of musical sunshine.

Midnight In Tokyo Volume 2 Midnight In Tokyo Volume 2 which will be released by Studio Mule Japan, on the ’27th’ July 2018, is just the latest compilation of jazz from the land of the rising it. It follows in the footsteps of BBE’s J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969-1984 and Jazzman Records’ Spiritual Jazz Volume 8 Japan: Parts I and II. Both are essential compilations for anyone with a passing interest in J-Jazz or jazz. They’re also both compilations of J-Jazz, while Midnight In Tokyo Volume 2 is supposedly a compilation of Japanese fusion from the late-seventies to mid-eighties. However, it’s not.

While there’s a couple of tracks on Midnight In Tokyo Volume 2 that are out-and-out fusion, the other tracks are best described as genre-melting. Everything from boogie, electronica, free jazz, funk, jazz, jazz-funk, Latin and soul features on Midnight In Tokyo Volume 2. It’s an eclectic compilation rather than a compilation of Japanese fusion. Having said that, Midnight In Tokyo Volume 2 is chock full of hidden gems and is perfect late night listening whether you’re spending the night in Texas, Tokyo or even Taunton.

Midnight In Tokyo Volume 2,

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