As soon as the first bass note of this jazz-funk LP sunk into my ears, I thought: “does Japan do America better than America?” It’s almost robotic, the way they imitate uniquely “American” music and perfect it to an ideal standard. They cover Kool and The Gang’s song “Funky Stuff” on this album, and it’s almost better than the original. From what I know about Japan, it’s a culture of near perfectionism, where hard work is valued above all else and failure is dishonor in its purest form. But that could be my western lens; my perception of their culture based off of watching The Last Samurai. But — I digress. This album is amazing. It bounces between head-rocking, purely groovy jazz-funk and soft soul. This record is a product of one of America’s cultural gifts to Japan. And with the mass importation of American records came American attitudes. You can hear it in their music, and see it in the lifestyle of Japanese citizens in the ‘70s.
he point of focusing on crate digging with TL;DL is to be retrospective. We can look back on the socio-historical contexts that shaped the music, giving us an enhanced understanding of it. We have the advantage of history, of the recorded events succeeding the ‘70s to use as a comparative standard against the time period that produced Funky Stuff. In Japan, Western music infiltrated their sphere as early as 1868, when the Meiji Restoration allowed for modernization and facilitated a leaning towards musical instruction outside of Japanese borders. We can see that Japan’s new cultural assimilation was not an isolated phenomenon. In the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, massive advances in global communication and the blanket effect of The Cold War caused a sort of worldwide culture to form. Almost every Western and westernized nation knew about Hollywood and American music.
Fast-forwarding to the 1970’s, almost everyone in Japan had a concrete understanding and appreciation for American popular music of the time. When America was their enemy in WW2, Jazz was repressed as “the music of the enemy.” But by the time the ‘70s hit, America and Japan might not have had the most pure relationship, but their accelerationist ideals were the same, meaning they shared enemies. They could relate on most problems that hindered their goals of radical economic and cultural growth — like the oil crisis in ‘73. American soul artists like Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield represented the marginalized masses that experienced the adverse effects of stagflation (inflation without economic growth), and they belted out in anguish, articulating the angst of complex social problems. This music certainly resonated with Japan, a country experiencing the same issues. America and Japan were one in the same in the sense that the image of an economic boom was illusory, as industrial growth was stifled by the oil embargo. We think of happiness and massive growth when we think of the 1970’s. And while that was true culturally, economic insecurity in Japan bred the same kind of poverty, leftist radicalism, and organized crime as it did in America. To distill this point — subversion was a guiding light for Japanese art. As Alexandra Munroe, a popular curator of Asian art said, it was “undoubtedly the most creative outburst of anarchistic, subversive and riotous tendencies in the history of modern Japanese culture.”
Soul music and jazz-funk permeated the Japanese consciousness as a coping mechanism and a rebellious medium. As mentioned before, WW2-era Japan outlawed popular American music, and this traditionalism still existed in remnants. Jiro Inagaki and Soul Media were a popular but very veiled group that challenged this existing conservatism. I don’t need to go into detail about how nearly-perfect this album is, because with the spirit of rebellion and culture of disciplinarian perfectionism behind this music, it’s easy to say this is probably one of the best recordings coming out of Japan in the ‘70s.
Arrangement and Electric Piano – Hiromasa Suzuki
Drums – Hajime Ishimatsu
Electric Bass – Akira Okazawa
Guitar – Hiroshi Yasukawa
Tenor Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Flute, Producer – Jiro Inagaki
Trombone – Takashi Imai
Year Released: 1975
- Painted Paradise
- Funky Motion
- Funky Stuff
- One For Jiro
- Gentle Wave
- Four Up