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Originally recorded on 78 rpm discs during the 1920’s, this collection of pre-war Japanese jazz contains some of the earliest recordings of jazz from Japan. Inspired by records brought into the country by US soldiers, Japanese musicians attempted to emulate the then hitherto unheard sounds of New Orleans – with varying degrees of success. Yet many of these records would be distributed, sold, and played at night clubs across the country; serving as the soundtrack to the early years of Japan’s Showa-era. These recordings certainly have historical significance, and as outdated as they may be, you won’t be able to stop yourself from tapping your foot. It’s no wonder that Haruomi Hosono has expressed his love for these records!
Album opener “Sing me a Song of Araby” is a Japanese cover of the theme song from 1927’s The Garden of Allah. The song failed to chart in its native United States, but is perhaps one of the first examples of a song being ‘big in Japan’; quickly becoming a standard in musicians’ repertoires, with one record of the song selling over two-hundred thousand copies. In comparison, “My Blue Heaven” (written by Walter Donaldson) is a well established part of the American Songbook, and on this recording, an unnamed singer croons over a lopsided swing, interspersed with drum and out-of-tune piano breaks. These are classic songs of the Jazz age as you’ve never heard them before, but perfect if you want to transport yourself back to 1930’s Japan.
Across 12 tracks, big bands play on cheap drums, and tinny horns, sounding like they could fall apart at any moment, but never doing so. These arrangements are charming in their simplicity, and with the limited recording technology that was available at the time, it’s better that way! You may not find any Ellingtons, Armstrongs, or Mortons on this album, but the love that these musicians had for the music is infectious, and you’ll find yourself smiling and nodding your head by the end of each song. Pressed on vinyl for the first time ever (records at the time were pressed on shellac), with modern remastering technology, this is as good as these records have ever sounded!
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