So once again I'm in the position of having to thank someone for requesting an album, though I knew this famous Japanese pianist / OST composer before from his brilliant work called Inugami, I never would have expected anything from an album devoted to celebrating James Dean!
First, his discography, not complete, can be seen here. Obviously quite prolific as composer, there are so far as I know only two albums worth hearing, the requested one being one of those.
The other one is this unprepossessing album, with terrible ratings (as usual) on rym, which in the past used to mystify me; here seen with its Japanese title.
First, the 1977 James Dean album. The music is squarely in the seventies tradition with a mix of Italian soundtrack sounds and more orchestral easy listening. What is of note here is the sheer quality of the composition, which is really, quite unforgettable even after one listening. What a surprise, but perhaps explicable by the fact that Ohno was inspired by the subject matter.
The First American Teenager is pure bliss:
That's the first part. Note how it starts unassumingly with a little lullaby evoking the child, then moves into a minor key before the oboe (clarinet?) takes it up as a tender, melancholy melody (American Dream / American nightmares); then towards the end the beat gets faster and a blues sax hammers out an improv in E minor: the Hollywood lights. The next part which follows right after (not in the sample above) goes back to the classical music to close out the suite, followed by more ost music, more funk. Believe me when I say there's no compostion quite like this one in his entire oeuvre - except possibly the long track on side b, which will also shock you...
Moving on to the other record, from the year before, you get more of a mix, with fusion, seventies funk or blaxploitation sounds, plus the usual indebtedness to Italian or perhaps French soundtrack orchestrations. This for me is his masterpiece. The composition Meditation recalls any number of the library or progressive compositions from the great Euro-fusion masters of the seventies with the bonus of being perhaps more professionally smoothly played:
The following track shows off his Stravinskyite skills:
Before taking off for the schmaltzosphere, of course... nothing wrong with that in my books.
Despite the brilliance of these two albums I have heard the later ones from him including Space Kid (1979) the promising-sounding Cosmos (1981), the not-promising-sounding Lifetide (1982), the Proof of the Man from 1977 and Proof of the Wild from 1978, plus a couple of Lupin the 3rd albums (which are wholly confusing), that is, a total of 7 others and was sorely disappointed. It's a lot to slog through, though if interested you can request those. I would go so far as to say in their mix of syrupy strings, easy listening of the paediatric kind, dumb disco songs, and simple, commercialized compositions, we are dealing with music of the worst sort, the kind we older ones will remember from the hygienic easy-piano muzak of shopping malls. In fact, I can't remember any other situation where a great artist in the seventies suddenly became unlistenable so quickly, dropping so suddenly off a cliff. Usually subsequent albums have a couple of worthy tracks. Well, perhaps that's too harsh, the 1977 Proof of the Man has one or two good songs. One in particular is almost Hawkshaw-like with its scintillating synths and strings:
Then, if you don't believe me about the other records, consider the track Dancing Raccoon, from Space Kid (1979):
Yeah. A dancing raccoon...
But hidden in his discography from the period 1976-1977 were those two treasures I present today, James Dean, and Inugamike. And thanks for requesting the former!
PS your other request will show up too, stay tuned.