Monday 30 December 2019

Masahiko Satoh, Part 4 (Belladonna 1975, Electro Keyboard Orchestra 1975, Multispheroid 1977, YaKsa 1985, Twilight Monologues 1984, Silky Adventure 1986)

I post all of these after Christmas and the three other M. Satoh packages, amassing together essentially some leftover albums which range from a bit more disappointing to a lot more disappointing-- kind of like the guilt of looking at your credit card statement after the binge buying of Christmas sales and Black Friday, or like looking at the expensive presents your extended family, hopefully not close family, wasted money on that you will hide away in a mothball-filled closet for the rest of eternity and never look at again. Gotta hate your mother in law, even if there weren't a million other reasons, just for that awful tendency of buying the worst Xmas presents.  (And for myself, for Xmas I'll once again pray my wife doesn't look at this blog.)

Going through it quickly, to minimize the discomfort brought on by this wide-bore needle injection unfortunately medically necessary for your survival, the soundtrack Belladonna from 1975 is totally and completely by the numbers OST/library stuff, I almost want to write him a letter to say, 'what were you thinking; why couldn't you come up with better music?  Why can't you be more like Morricone?? Or your compatriot Jun Fukamachi???'  Like we say to our kids.  The track called Mr. London gives you an idea, once again, bearing in mind this is the best composition:

On the 1975 keyboard album called Electro Keyboard Orchestra, wherein he is accompanied by 7 other pianists including our old fave Yuji Ohno (note there were several Ohno posts back then on this blog, what wonderful music that was), there is some delightful fusion here and there, witness Mother of the Future:

Note that this track surprisingly was written by Carlos Garnett.  His original rendition and album were garbage, if I recall correctly.

Moving right along to the next big bowtied box of nuthin', we have the piano improvisation called Multi-Spheroid etc., which on top of being purely solo grand piano, is completely extemporized in a non-key or atonal manner with nothing at all familiar to cling to (unless you're one of those third world children of the garbage dumps that lives on top of a pile of refuse).  As usual it amazes me that this kind of 'music' would be put out as a real LP back in the day, when better music is thrown out as 'tax scam releases' and never sees the light.  Absolutely deplorable.  And unlistenable.  The best thing is without a doubt the artwork that graces the album, which entranced me for quite some time, trying to understand what it was all about.  Have a look at it above.

Then Twilight Monologues features 4 pianists, again on solo acoustic, again uselessly boring.  Please, give me back the ten minutes I wasted on this, or I will break the record over your heads, you four.  Get back over here, you wimps.  The album from 1986 with bamboo flute player Yamamoto (we saw him too before here) is piano plus bamboo, and surely you are begging for a couple of giant pandas to eat all of his bamboo instruments to relieve you from this torture by the time you get to the end.  Although, instead of free atonal garbage, we are dealing here with simplistic folktune-like garbage.  A familiar thing to those children of the dumps.  The Iberian track at least is good:

And that leaves us with Yaksa, another OST, from 1985 this time.  Here it's Toots Thielemans (on harmonica of course and as usual) who is accompanying Satoh and the music is at least approachable and occasionally interesting, though once again he falls into the death-trap trash compactor of simplistic composition, so unlike the packages 1-3 in our pre-Christmas Satoh Special.  In fact, where the hell did all the good music go, oh-Satoh-San????

It's unfortunate in particular that the theme song sung by Nancy Wilson, which resembles the James Bond songs, is so disappointing.  For example the Prologue starts so promising, quite Dave Grusin-like in sound, and then when Toots tries to get in on the action, it becomes reduced to the worst sort of big band / library jazz track from the standard American jazz bin:

It's like you want to slap him on his back while he's playing his harmonica so he swallows it by accident, or it gets stuck in his mouth like the stick the road runner put in the coyote's mouth that keeps his jaw open so he can't play any chords anymore except G7 and C while breathing in and out.

So obviously I won't be pursuing any more Masahiko Satoh, and we will just try to remember those glorious albums that were so full of creative and wonderful ideas and so progressive in their melding of jazz and classical with electric instrumental energy: All in-All out, Chagall, Amorphism, and the two Medical Sugar Banks.

I'll continue in the next couple of weeks with some more fantastic Japanese progressive music that was totally new to me, maybe not to you.

Friday 27 December 2019

Masahiko Satoh, Part Three, 2 more

Amazingly the album from 1986 called Amorphism doesn't disappoint in the least bit.  The track oddly called Utopala sounds like it's from the greatest European fusion albums of the seventies, with the brilliant cello melody conversing lovingly with the electric keys so gorgeously and emotionally:

Then I have the 2005 album Live at Moers which does, finally, disappoint me a little, but still has quite a lot of good music to enjoy, similar to the situation with Orchestre National.

And I know that he was so hugely productive that many out there more familiar with his oeuvre know of some albums from him well worth hearing, which I've never heard.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Merry Christmas with Turner And Kirwan Of Wexford's 1977 Absolutely And Completely

A brilliant album of progressive songs that I believe will surely make your Xmas.

It would be nice if there were more like this hiding out there, the perfect mix of creative rock with elements of classical music, striving to achieve something far far beyond the mainstream radio songs of the day with inventiveness and poise, very much in the Genesis vein in fact, but there doesn't seem to be much more for us to find.  For this reason some turn to folk music some to basic rock or singer-songwriter, some like me to fusion where there are still albums full of creative invention and interesting ideas, for example, chord progressions never heard before, or very chromatic melodies that are far outside of anything tin pan alley, plus the virtuosity expected of jazz musicians.  And I don't doubt for even a second there are library albums out there yet unearthed or unripped that are superbly progressive in the style we love here.  In fact, there's one that blew me away from one of our most famous and beloved progressive library writers that I'll hold on to for next year for possible posting.

But this one is a real treat for the progressive lover for sure.  Just listen to the Distant Ships on the horizon:

More distant ships like that one, please!

And Merry Christmas to all.  Or rather Happy Holidays.  Whatever.

Sunday 22 December 2019

Masahiko Satoh, Part Two (Medical Sugar Bank)

Wow.  It's a huge pile of sugar sitting on the street.  May I assume it's some kind of drug reference, given the time period.

Here's part two in this series of albums from a legendary, visionary, fusionary keyboardist out of Japan called Masahiko Satoh who rivaled our old favourite Jun Fukamachi in brilliance and variety.  With a band given the hilarious moniker Medical Sugar Bank, as if for hypoglycemic diabetics, he made two wonderful fusion albums, again reminding me of the other MS master summiteer Masanori Sasaji.  Obviously, having been released in the years 1980 and 1981, we have quite a bit of that smooth fuzak to sort through with the David-Sanborn-ic screechy sax sound.  Those who heard fusion in the 80s will be reminded vividly of that thin, scrapy, scratchy squealing sax sound Sanborn so perfected and got rich on, with the screaming high held notes that, god is great, I'm happy have disappeared today.  (I hated you back then and I still hate you David Sanborn.  And let's throw in Kenny G too, with his ridiculous hairstyle, another rightfully forgotten artist.)

But then after the fuzak you get to a track like Nebulous Suspicion and all the education and creative brilliance shine forth as if a pure mountain stream of refreshing water, or maybe, like a big pile of sweet sugar:

The second album from this brilliant band starts off as they almost always do with a pure throwaway smooth fuzak track with that uptempo slapped-bass jittery bouncy funkadelic uber-simple style that was so maddeningly popular back then, but by the second track we know we are in for something different with a song entitled "Topological Linkage" whose wild synthesizer chords make you think you never ever left those wonderful experimental seventies days:

But leave them we did, and we had to.  In order to get to the wonderful silicon valley world we live in now where a few billionaires own half the world.  And we should thank those glory days so long ago for having shown us the way, musically, to perfection.

Friday 20 December 2019

(Yet) Another Japanese Fusionary Genius: Masahiko Satoh, Part One

I'm very excited about this one.  This is why it's in the lead-up to Christmas.

The next few posts are dedicated to this remarkable artist who made a string of formidable fusion works in the late seventies-early eighties period, sometimes equalling our old favourite and everyone's favourite I believe, Jun Fukamachi, at least here and there.  The overall sound is actually very similar to the two LPs I posted not too long ago late this past summer from countryman Masanori Sasaji and I hope everyone is not yet tired of those amazing tracks.  Or, if you are, get ready for some more amazing music to listen to, blessed with a very original and emotional sound combining the ultimate excitement of electric fusion from the American side with the depth of feeling and resonance that I've often said is a hallmark of the European masters of the art, plus of course, the brilliant classical education that puts it over the edge for me, with the addition of complex chord progressions, polytonalities, etc.

First of all in his discography you can remark that he spent a lot of time in the early years treading water in that awful swamplike morass of jazz standards that was obligatory for the jazz musician of the time before fusion exploded on the scene.  Just as confusing to me is the fact he played in so many different bands, usually one-off, which I don't know anything at all about.  I would certainly out of habit discard the solo piano albums and the ones classified as free jazz, but that still leaves us quite a few to wade through.

Anyways for part one I stuck to two from 1979 and 1980 that are very similar to the Sasaji works, All in-All out, and Chagall Blue.  From the former absolutely incredible high-energy fusionary masterpiece, which incidentally far exceeds more famous works by Mahavishnu or Patrick Moraz' Story of I, or even most Herbie Hancock mid-70s fusion works, the track called Moth Ball highlights the kinds of crazy ideas this album is chock-full of like a Kellogg's breakfast cereal stuffed with sugar:

And one of the highlights of his works is that he is equally at home with ballads and tender music as he is with the dense-with-energy stuff.

Moving on to the second album, we have mostly a trio with the grand piano and rhythm section added, but here and there you'll notice some cello and violin melodies for some very beautiful, characteristically Euro-fusion effects.  For those who are familiar with the classical piano repertoire, the Impressionistic Dusk is simply a phenomenal homage to Debussy/Ravel (of course, their piano compositions were so similar):

I'm reminded of two other artists/albums with similarly perfect piano compositions, the Japanese work Inada Bemi Family's side one, an immortal masterpiece for me, and the Rena Rama called New Album, wherein the track called Gestalt simply blew me away, and in fact, still does.
More to come.

Wednesday 18 December 2019

4 Wagner Tiso from Brazil (1978-1982) limited time only

Here's a true curveball, an artist I would've completed ignored based on the somewhat erroneous genre description of 'popular Brazilian music' which implies or rather threatens us with the boring sambas, predictable chords, and latin simplicity we are so accustomed to from popular jazz and popular pop, apologies to those who love the style.

The progressive fan will probably be familiar with the early psychedelic/proto-prog band Som Imaginario especially its 1973 masterwork Matanca do Porco and its multiple songs called Armina and/or Vinheta.  Not clear to me if Tiso wrote the music for that group or just made the arrangements which were often orchestral.  Our Brazilian commenters will probably know a bit more and will elucidate.

Anyways, despite the prosaic description of his solo albums, there is some true creative invention here in the earliest albums (released when he was already in his thirties) which, inevitably, slowly dwindles the further into the eighties we get.  Time and time again we have seen that phenomenon, universal enough to be designated a scientific law, the Law of Postseventies Declining Progressiveness (LPDP).  The first two LPs with their feet stuck in that decade really stand out.  He is clearly a classically educated composer and brings some of the traditional fugues, piano figures, and chord progressions from that milieu into the mix but does a great job of providing entertaining variety to the whole.  So for comparison the famous Seasons of Vivaldi as interpreted by Canarios I thought was a bit too indebted to classical to be interesting, like Latte e Miele in their first album Passio Secundum.  He is also a Listzian virtuoso pianist as you can easily gather from the playing.  Consider for example the last track of the first ST album:

The operatic wordless singing augmented by the extreme drama of the symphonic arrangement really stands out.

From the 1979 album, which is the masterpiece for sure, Variations of Bela (Bartok?):

Thereafter the wonderful ideas decline as I mentioned, as per the LPDP.  Nonetheless or perhaps as a consequence, he continued to make an LP every year approximately all the way into the current era, into his sixties and beyond, at which point the ordinariness of the music is enough to make you comatose.  I should quote the bio too:

Wagner Tiso Veiga (Três Pontas, MG, December 12, 1945) is a Brazilian musician, arranger, conductor, pianist and composer.  Having, on the paternal side (Correia de Figueiredo), ancestry in ancient aristocracy Lusitanian; the maternal side (Tiso), Gypsy descent, Tiso learned music theory with Paulo Moura and specialized keyboards. Participated in the Sambacana set in 1964 and two years later went to work with the old master. He accompanied various artists like Cauby Peixoto, Ivon Cury, Maysa and Marcos Valle. In 1970 he joined the band Sound Imagination, who accompanied the shows of Milton Nascimento.  Member of Clube da Esquina, soon became successful abroad, performing in Athens and Montreux, and also following not only Milton but also Flora Purim, Airto Moreira and Ron Carter.  In the '70s, made arrangements for Gonzaguinha, Paulo Moura, Johnny Alf, MPB-4, Dominguinhos, Milton himself and others.

I listened to all the albums post 1982 (Toca Brasil) until the early 90s and can guarantee there's very little for the progressive fan to be entertained by.  Very different from his compatriot and contemporary Egberto Gismonti, who was uncompromisingly progressive all the way through until the current era.  It's possible someone out there knows more and can indicate to us somewhere he reverted to the old style, but I gave up eventually.

Monday 16 December 2019

Spanish artist Bibiano in Estamos etc. (76), Alcabre (77), Aluminio (79)

Although the discography describes his first album as prog rock I think we can kindly disagree and smash that contributor's face, being really folk of the most basic form, but oddly rare, or maybe not so oddly.  As is quite common in the music industry, his full name which runs to four whole words has been foreshortened down to one word in the same way that complex chord progressions are often reduced down to I IV V or circles of fifths in popular music.

The (Spanish) wiki entry is delightful and entertainingly nonsensical, presumably because The Great Google's AI just happens to be like that as a person:

Bibiano Adonis Morón Giménez [Adonis Moron??? --Editor], known musically as Bibiano, was born in Santiago de Compostela (Galicia) on December 21, 1950 and dies on December 27 although it is published on April Fools' Day, December 28, 2016, as if a joke in question, that would not be strange because he was a joker with a Galician humor (whatever that each one interprets). He is one of the greatest Galician musicians and composers of all time. His passage through the Compostela Cathedral since 1965 is known as “Niño de Coro” and member of the Escolania. He founded several rock groups, Los Tanos, Thaker Fusión Combo and "O Noso Tempo" .. They were the last years of the dictatorship and Bibiano, involved with the language and the Galician land, joins the Voices Ceibes collective in a home meeting from the writerAlfredo Conde , committing to dignify the language and denounce the political and social situation. Bibiano enters the collective through his friendship with Vicente Araguasand later with Xerardo Moscoso. Because of his rock influence, his approaches were more innovative and open than those of his teammates. I felt a great admiration for Anglo-Saxon musicians such as The Sputniks, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan or Janis Joplin and began to experiment with progressive rock with a clear Anglo-Saxon side. It is evident during the development of his career the integration of "folk" sounds with electronic music that was imposed in that period. He was the first Galician singer-songwriter to introduce percussion and electric instruments. This innovation produced a rejection among the most conservative sectors that failed to appreciate its enormous value.

Note that he still has trouble with personal pronouns (I / he).  Then he goes on to tell us about my musical output.  I'm really basic acoustic folk with the slightest touch of creativity, for example, almost every chord progression of every song is predictable or analogous to other songs written in the past, perhaps not dissimilar to the albums I posted earlier from Gotic-related Coses.  Thus, from the first album, the classical-influenced Cantiga de Amor:

From the second album called Alcabre, track A3, A Rapaza Das Palabras De Augua:

Note the reach towards Italian-styled progressive rock with the interesting instrumentation, the welcome addition of electric guitar in particular, and the melodies counterpointing with a flute nicely added to the mix.

Despite my criticism, I know the lovers of folk music and more gentle styles with appreciate these much more than I did and, so far as I know, they are not really available digitally--yet.

Friday 13 December 2019

Back to José Ma. Vitier with La Frontera Del Deber (1976)

Gotta love that pro-Castro cover art.  The one thing missing on that pictorial representation is the begging bowl, since any visitor to that island country will surely leave surprised at the skill the crafty natives have developed for begging for anything, a bar of soap, a towel, even a couple US dollars, often employing their wide-eyed children for that purpose as in so many others countries suffering extreme poverty.  And I suppose they also should have painted on the cover, perhaps in the background, a mass grave of disappeared family members shot in the head.  But don't let that bother you, this music straddles easy listening and composed orchestral music perfectly with virtually no cliches, no universal socialized healthcare, and a minimum of the typical hispanic musical stereotypes including those silly percussive rhythms, the women screaming 'ay!,' or mystery illnesses afflicting foreign diplomats.  I guess when all is said and done there's no country I don't mind making fun of.  Though Russia really is my favourite in that dept.  Anyhow, I guess few would argue the best composition is the secret zone, presumably by this he meant where all the 'disappeared' were buried along with the bullets in their brains:

But in this zone let's not keep this great music secret.

Thursday 12 December 2019

Introducing Jose Maria Vitier: Su Musica, Su Grupo (Cuba 1987)

This is not a country from which you'd expect miracles except in the revolutionary sense, like having your AK-47 jam as you're face to face with a reactionary capitalist pig and then it fixes itself and works-- thank god for that trusty Russian engineering. (And of course, we all know Kalashnikov its inventor as the greatest Russian who ever lived, bar none.)  Back to ex-ally Cuba though.  They had the famous fusion band called Sintesis (or Grupo Sintesis) which probably everyone knows already-- not to be confused with the Argentinian band of the same name and the same style in the same decade, see here.  This album is full of great ideas, very much unlike their founding father Fidel.  The composer is clearly highly educated, highly competent, and has a wonderful flair for mixing popular ideas with more advanced composition, consider the first track, El corazon sobre la tierra:

A very enjoyable propaganda indeed.

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Peter Weekers' Fata Morgana

Note the similarity to the Flairck album covers.  A commenter pointed out to me this earlier album from 1981 from Peter Weekers the flautist from Flairck who was responsible for some of the most breathtakingly beautiful tracks on Mamadeus.  This is again similar to both the aforementioned classical-influenced, folky, proto-new agey bands with, unfortunately, the bamboo flute and its breathy tone taking centre stage.  Luckily, to my relief, he does set it aside for some tracks.  The music is almost all written by him, with one track penned by his co-artist multi-instrumentalist Rob ven der Vlugt:

In most respects it is quite ordinary and lacking the spark of invention that made Mamadeus such a masterpiece for me.  The long track, title track, is the highlight here.