I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Kuniko Fukushima -- Bye Bye City

After doing that article for an Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)song that singer-songwriter Kuniko Fukushima(福島邦子)had composed, I decided to see if there were any other tunes that the Okayama Prefecture-born artist herself had recorded.

Sure enough, I was able to find a fun one called "Bye Bye City" that she had released back in 1979 and was also a track on her debut album "I'm Ready" from July of that year. "Bye Bye City" has the feeling of a good road trip song as Fukushima sings about getting a fresh new start somewhere other than her old burg where her friends were drifting away. Fukushima's melody was paired with Takashi Matsumoto's(松本隆)lyrics.

I like the tune for that airy happy tone of 70s American AOR/pop and perhaps even a bit of New Wave through the keyboards especially in the intro. In a way, her voice reminds me of the delivery of Junko Ohashi(大橋純子)in a more down-home environment. I read on both her J-Wiki entry and the YouTube comments for the song that "Bye Bye City" was used as the campaign song for Nihon Car Ferry, now known as Marine Express Co.,Ltd.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Akina Nakamori -- Aitsu wa Joke(アイツはジョーク)

It's sometimes a bit jarring to see Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)now, and then compare her to how she started out in the music business over 30 years ago. When some of us Akina fans on the blog talk about her, we can't help but express some concern considering that fragility she has displayed for many years. And yet, my impression of her early days was that the Tokyo aidoru of the early 1980s had initially been groomed to be the anti-Seiko Matsuda(松田聖子)through her music: a punk girl in a school uniform with the big booming hairdo talking rough and tough. Perhaps she was the Rolling Stones to Seiko-chan's Beatles although some of those cute smiling photos of her in "Myojo" and "Heibon" magazines (as above) probably undercut that tsuppari image.

Being an Akina fan, it was those very early days of her career in the early part of the decade that I actually know the least about since my interest in her and her music didn't begin until the middle of the 1980s. So there is stuff to learn about still.

I've come across this track from Akina's 3rd album "Fantasy ~ Gensoukyoku"(ファンタジー〈幻想曲〉...Fantasia)which was released in March 1983 titled "Aitsu wa Joke". Now, as for a little bit of Japanese vocabulary information, aitsu isn't exactly the nicest word to use in public discourse since although it is technically defined as another word to represent the third-person singular (he/she), practically it can mean "that jerk" or worse. So perhaps in the intention of imbuing the translation with Akina's feelings, I will probably go with "Jerk's A Joke".

Written by the late Tsuzuru Nakasato(中里綴)and composed by Kuniko Fukushima(福島邦子), "Aitsu wa Joke" has that sound that I've often associated with early aidoru Akina uptempo tunes: wailing electric guitar, sweeping-and-staccato strings and a slightly lower-than-usual aidoru voice that can straddle between defiance and pleading. I can also hear and understand why Nakamori had been compared to the big aidoru of the previous decade, Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵).

Going through the song's lyrics, Akina spends virtually the entire song castigating a former beau as if he were the most offensive cockroach oozing from under the refrigerator only to give hints that her vitriol may just be a front until the very last line where she basically confesses that he still pines for the lug through the tears reflected in the mirror. I still haven't gone through many of Akina's songs during this time but thematically, the words remind me of one of her early hits "Shojo A"(少女A)in which within all the tough talk, there is that vulnerable hidden center inside of her. Perhaps this was a common trait with her songs.

As for "Fantasy", it did hit No. 1 on the Oricon weeklies. Well, perhaps this can be another item on the wish list.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Minami Kitazono -- Yuugiri(夕霧)

Always appreciate those tips from collaborators and commenters. The other day, Matt Gallais was kind enough to introduce me to the band Lamp, then he told me about this musician/singer-songwriter by the name of Minami Kitazono(北園みなみ).

There's not a lot of insight into what makes the man tick in terms of his music outside some information on J-Wiki that he started getting into classical music from the age of 23 and that he has recently gotten interested in Baroque-age polyphony. But for me, what makes any singer interesting to me is an ability for his music to come from a variety of sources. That has been the case with Kitazono.

His "Yuugiri" (Evening Mist) from his 2nd mini-album "Lumiere" from July 2015 had me thinking everything from French jazz, Shibuya-kei, the music of Jamiroquai, J-soul from the early 2000s to even 1970s City Pop. A bit of Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)of the early 1980s even came to mind. All that from one song.

Matt first sent me the link to a digest of his 2014 debut mini-album "Promenade" and was instantly attracted to it. Some very nice appetizers in there. As someone commented on YouTube, though, it would be nice if he made some full albums in the near future.And as I will comment, quoting from the immortal Meme Man, "cool and good". I gather that "Promenade" and even "Lumiere" will go onto my early Xmas list.

Izumi Yukimura -- Cha-Cha-Cha wa Ikaga(チャチャチャはいかが)

I was just talking with contributor T-cat a couple of hours ago about how much we love the old stuff and noted as well the fact that I slightly consider myself an anachronism I may be. For instance, along with the songs, I do love watching the black-&-whites on Turner Movie Classics. And just last night, I did talk about some jazz at a time when we're approaching a century since the Jazz Age cropped up.

After making my comments to T-cat, on a whim, I decided to visit YouTube and see if there were any Izumi Yukimura(雪村いづみ)songs there. I had already given the veteran singer and actress some attention through a few articles as someone that I first got to know through TV appearances when she was well into middle age.

I'd had no idea how much of a powerhouse singer she was right from her teens and once again, I've discovered another song for her to show off her chops. This is her cover of the American pop song "Ain'tcha-cha Comin' Out T-tonight?" as originally done by Jo Stafford in 1955. Yukimura's version from 1956 was re-titled into the Japanese "Cha-Cha-Cha wa Ikaga" (How About Some Cha-Cha-Cha?).

Now as I said last night, I have liked all kinds of jazz and that also includes the Latin jazz by folks such as Tito Puente and Perez Prado. And of course, there is Japan's Orquesta de la Luz. "Cha-Cha-Cha wa Ikaga" rather gets the spicier side of nostalgia flowing. Yukimura's English delivery is really quite good although I notice that she doesn't quite stutter the "tonight" as she does enunciate the "T" almost like a special prefix. But no complaints here...the song stayed in my head all throughout watching "VS. Arashi" tonight.

Norman Gimbel and Alec Wilder created the original Stafford song with Seiichi Ida(井田誠一)providing the Japanese lyrics for Yukimura. Ida also took care of the Japanese lyrics for Yukimura's cover of "Till I Waltz Again With You", known as "Omoide no Waltz"(想い出のワルツ)in Japan..

Dreams Come True -- Thank You.(サンキュ.)

When I first heard this Dreams Come True song, the band's 17th single from February 1995, the underlying music had this whimsical synth-flute sound that sounded rather familiar but for the life of me, I couldn't identify the source.

All I felt at the time was that "Thank You." was this down-home-in-the-country sounding song whose purpose seemed to be to put people at ease. And the lyrics by vocalist Miwa Yoshida(吉田美和)bring that message as a young lady expresses her gratitude to a loyal friend and hints that she may want to take things to the next level. Note to the friend: seize the day!

Back to the music by Yoshida and bassist Masato Nakamura(中村正人). It wouldn't be years later when I got a BEST compilation of the Pat Metheny Group and heard the various songs there that I put 2+2 together and thought that perhaps "Thank You." may have been inspired by the works of Metheny. My only experience with him was through the 1980s collaboration between him and David Bowie, "This Is Not America" from the movie "The Falcon and the Snowman", and as much as I like the mystery and the wistfulness of the song, there was not all that much in common between it and the songs that I've heard on the BEST album.

I did find out there in the J-Wiki article for "Thank You." that the rhythm for the song was likely based on Metheny's "Slip Away". I actually gave it a listen on YouTube but didn't hear too much of a similarity between the two tunes; in fact, I thought "Slip Away" had more in common with the aforementioned "This Is Not America" strangely enough.

Still "Thank You." is another pleasant and laidback song that provided another hit for Dreams Come True. It peaked at No. 2 and became the 26th-ranked single for 1995. It also went Double Platinum, selling more than a million copies. The song also quickly became sold as a charity single following the Great Hanshin Earthquake that had occurred in January of that year. "Thank You." was also a track on DCT's 7th album "Delicious", hitting No. 1 for two weeks straight after its release in March and later becoming the No. 1 album of the year. It is currently the 22nd-ranked best-selling album in Oricon history.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Gentle Forest Jazz Band -- A Samurai's Money/Tsuki Miru Doll(月見るドール)

Japan was indeed the place where I finally admitted my interest in jazz. I have mentioned this in a past article but I bought my first jazz album at the long-gone massive Virgin Records store in East Shinjuku in the late 1990s. It wasn't even an "official" album but a cheap compilation CD of Bill Evans' work. Of course, cheap or not, it had his landmark "Waltz for Debby". After that, I started looking for some more of the masters of the genre such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Miles Davis and then even going into some of the more contemporary entertainers including Diana Krall and Michael Buble.

The Japanese and jazz have also had an underlying relationship for many decades. Of course, there are the jazz artists and vocalists like Sadao Watanabe and Kei Kobayashi but I've noticed that jazz had even seeped into kayo during that time. And to my observation, it would seem that once in a while, various singers have simply gotten that urge to do a jazzy number, whether it be a cover of one of the classics or a new creation. However, the music that I've heard through those particular numbers have usually followed the Be-Bop, Cool Jazz and Bossa Jazz from the late 1940s into the 1960s.

Over a decade ago, there was a movie in Japan titled "Swing Girls" about the trials and tribulations of a group of high school students who create their own stomping jazz band and so there was a bit more attention paid, for a little while at least, to the earlier Big Band Swing sounds. Although I didn't bother with the movie, I did buy a compilation disc filled with hits Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and other famous swing jazz musicians that must have been inspired by the movie.

A couple of nights ago, I discovered that aside from the singers and songwriters who liked to pay tribute to the jazz of the 50s and 60s, there was a Japanese band who loved to dive down into Swing. This is the Gentle Forest Jazz Band led by the congenial Gentle Kubota(ジェントル久保田), a man in his 30s who had once aimed to become some sort of gardener before deciding that it was simply not for him. Instead, his career ambitions made a right-angle turn into the Jazz Age via Wako University in Tokyo's Machida City where he entered a Big Band club and really got into playing the trombone. He ended up creating the Gentle Forest Jazz Band in 2005 which now has around 21 members including a trio of vocalists known as the Gentle Forest Sisters.

In October 2011, GFJB released a single called "A Samurai's Money" although the original title is the slightly more confusing "Endo - Ru - Money"(エンド・ル・マネー)which is a humourous riff on "Yen, Dollar, Money". Along with the percolating music, Kubota has got quite the charm and panache in the video as he does his need-more-moola patter and Chaplinesque comedy routine with the feeling of a sketch in an old-fashioned TV variety show in the United States.

Actually, my first encounter with the band was with this song that is their most recent effort as part of their 4th album "GFJB" which just came out late last month. This is "Tsuki Miru Doll" which has the English title of "Dolls Look The Moon". Forgiving the title for its lack of a needed preposition, I was impressed with the song and the music video as "Tsuki Miru Doll" features the Gentle Forest Sisters singing with the boogie-woogie of the Andrews Sisters while Gentle Kubota does his enthusiastic conducting of the swinging band.

I gotta say that Kubota is quite the showman and I think he's channeling some of the pizzazz of Duke Ellington as he pumps his shoulders frenetically and prances across the stage. In fact, his own J-Wiki article mentions that he's been nicknamed "The Dancing Conductor". And looking at the video, I couldn't help but think that this had all the atmosphere of an NBC jazz radio show from Manhattan. The only thing missing was the baritone-voiced announcer standing by that microphone. But there is the dancing couple on the floor and some melodic shoutouts to "As Time Goes By" and "Sing, Sing, Sing", the latter being the hallmark song for Swing Jazz.

Good golly, more albums to consider for the shelves.

Tatsuro Yamashita -- Magic Ways

Another wonderfully sunny song by the master himself, Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎). "Magic Ways" is a song that I had yet to hear so it's great that I can still discover new things from Tats.

A song from the soundtrack album "Big Wave" for which the original LP was released in June 1984, it was composed by Yamashita and written by Alan O'Day. The pair had also been responsible for the title track and the heart-on-your-sleeve classic ballad "Your Eyes".

"Magic Ways" settles nicely between those two songs in terms of tone. It's a mid-tempo strut or shuffle down the boardwalk on a sunny day, and Yamashita still amazes with that English delivery of his. I can only hope that spring gets here sooner.