Sal Klita Blogger | Muzik impressions

Sal Klita Blogger

Saturday, September 27

1969-1978 Obscure Japanese Psychedelic rock artifacts

It's no longer out of the ordinary for a rock band to look beyond rock for inspiration. Or a jazz band, looking to expand their sound. It definitely makes sense as musicians are generally constantly striving to explore, to open their minds, their music, searching for unique instruments, new ideas, new sounds, even looking for something much more ineffable, something more spiritual. Psychedelic rock bands have typically looked East, The Beatles are probably the prime example of a rock band looking to India for musical AND spiritual inspiration. But on a much smaller scale, modern music develops and expands by incorporating new influences, the more 'exotic' the better. So for years, we could watch bands do just that, incorporate new instruments, sitars, tablas, whatever, alternate tunings, Eastern scales.

Jazz musicians on the other hand, tended to look to Africa for inspiration, the tribal drumming, the vocal chants, all found their way onto tons of amazing records, amazing in part because of what they borrowed from the African music that was their genesis, as with many many discs by the Art Ensemble, Coltrane, Don Cherry, etc., etc...So if all this borrowing and influence is so commonplace, what's the big deal with this disc, a deluxe reissue of a rare 1972 LP entitled Uganda, by Japan's strangely named Akira Ishikawa & Count Buffalo? Well to begin with, imagine a Japanese jazz drummer in the early seventies, so obsessed with African music, that not only are his records already rife with African influences, but he eventually travels there, and proceeds to play with local musicians, collects indigenous instruments, and returns, driven to realize the record he knows he must make, Uganda, a record that manages to sound like African music, jazz and psychedelic rock, while sounding like nothing else. Ishikawa teamed up with fellow percussionist Larry Sunaga, a bassist and guitarist, and a saxophonist, who instead of playing sax, composed all four lengthy pieces here, the results are amazing. Dense, dizzying, abstract and tribal, fuzzy and tripped out, long stretches of solo hand drum percussion, furious acid fuzz freakouts (courtesy of guitarist Kimio Mizutani, from Love Live Life+1, People, and other freaky Japanese '70s psych units), chanting and handclaps, all woven into an expansive, sprawling divine chunk of out there Afro-fuzz-psych-jazz-rock divinity.Take the first track "Animals and Dawn", nearly 12 minutes long, and over those 12 minutes, the song veers and drifts through about ten distinctly different sounds and styles, all held together by the relentless African drum jam that runs through all four tracks.

Beginning with what sounds like some strange low end synth buzz, those drums kick in, intense and hyper rhythmic, amazingly recorded, so on headphones it sounds like drums are all around you. That buzz, pulses and undulates beneath the frenzied drumming, and this goes on for almost 3 minutes, which is when some wild super distorted acid psych guitar swoops in, jagged and freaked out, spitting out soaring wah wah drenched buzz, before the bass joins in and the drums coalesce into a more recognizable groove, and the band nails it, heavy, slithery proto-metal, churning and pounding, eventually locking into a super technical prog workout, and then dropping out completely, again leaving just the drums, which are soon joined by hand clapping, and chanted African style vocals. Finally, for the last four minutes or so, the band unwinds a groovy jazzy prog workout, still underpinned by those same rhythms, but now the bass carries the groove, letting the guitar go wild, wild psychedelic leads all tangled up in great strange shapes over the groovy rhythm below.

Eventually, the song is swallowed up by effects, reverb, delay, echo, as if the band were playing on some huge elevator, as we sit on the surface, listening as the band slips further and further into darkness. Holy shit. If this were a $30 single, that track alone would make this essential for folks into psychrock, proto-metal, free jazz, avant African music or really anyone into strange and fantastical sounds.The second track, "Asking For Love", once again begins with African drums, the two percussionists, offering up wild tangled beats for nearly two minutes, until in swoops a weird synthy buzz, which quickly transforms into a seriously Led Zep worthy riff, the drums a strange counterpoint to the distinctly rock and roll riffage, and the vocals soaring and shouting, but this kick ass riff fades out only after a minute, and we're back to more dense drumming, Mesmerizing and hypnotic, locking into incredible grooves, veering off into off kilter time signatures here and there, but always returning to that groove.

This continues until about one minute from the end, when the bass and guitars explode in a buzzing psychedelic freakout, the drums mirroring the intensity of the axes, locked into an ever expanding supernova of blown out sound, until the furious explosive finish. Whew.Track three (on the original, the start of side 2) "Battle", begins with some straight up jazz prog, angular and complex, the drums and guitars locked tight, the whole thing convoluted and intricate, stopping suddenly after 30 seconds, at which point an African thumb piano plucks out a delicate music box melody, while in the background, other strange instruments scrape and thump and honk, eventually blossoming into a full on Afro-jam, the drums pounding away, male and female vocals, call and response over the mesmeric beats below, but again, this only lasts a few minutes before switching gears and launching right back into the angular prog that opened the track. This happens a couple more times. Long stretches of abstract percussion, plenty of buzz, and rattle, melodies played out on mysterious African instruments, separated by brief blasts of that buzzing tangled prog, which is exactly how the track finishes off.

The closer, "Pygmy" begins with a groovy walking bass line, a cowbell heavy almost-funk rhythm, eventually some acidic wah wah guitar, and suddenly we're in some serious seventies, Blaxploitation soundtrack style jazz funk, the bass a constant presence, that groove irresistible, the vocals soulful, the percussion still busy and intense, beneath the more static rhythm driving the songs. The guitar and vocals get all tangled up, the vocals more sort of scatting, the guitar offering up jagged shards of high end, or unfurling soaring psychrock leads, the bass and guitar locking into step right at the end, for one final super tight psychprog finish.It almost seems ridiculous to describe each song in detail, as that's only part of the story.

All four tracks work together, leading into one another, offering up bits from pervious songs, giving up little sonic hints as to what might come later, and it's not just the arrangements, it's the feel, the mood, the vibe, and while mere description might make some of the songs sound schizophrenic, flipping back and forth from part to part, some parts lasting only a few seconds, nothing could be further from the truth. The composition here is as deft as the performance, the arrangement is simultaneously free and abstract, yet, tight and composed. The songs breathe and open up, drift and wander, but never seem to lose their direction, and the grooves ever present, even if on the surface the band seem to be drifting though inner space.Uganda is truly unique, freaky and far out for sure, but most definitely an essential chunk of jazzy, proggy African Japanese psych rock bliss, organic, expansive, epic, rhythmic, space-y, proggy, heavy and funky!! If you've got Julian Cope's Japrocksampler book, you'll find it in his Top 50 list of Japanese psych essentials, right above the debut from Flower Travellin' Band.

As with all Tiliqua releases, gorgeously packaged. This one is housed in a full color miniature box, printed front and back, with a Japanese style obi of course, and inside extensive liner notes in both Japanese and English, with tons of photos. And it is limited of course, not sure how limited, but judging from how quick past Tiliqua releases fly out of here, better to be safe than sorry. And this is actually the first in a new Tiliqua series called Distorted Oriental Sensory Perceptions 1969-1978 focusing on "Obscure Japanese Psychedelic rock artifacts." We can hardly wait to see what they dig up next... there's a lot of others on that Japrocksampler list we'd love to hear... By Aquarius Records