Would you believe I purchased this wonderful album pre-release, on vinyl in July, some two months before it was due for release. I had forgotten my impulse buy until I received an email confirming the record was on its way. Wamono A-Z Vol. I consists of a collection of Japanese funk fusion tunes compiled masterfully by DJ Yoshizawa Dynamite & Chintam. Yoshizawa is a renowned remixer compiler and producer. His career spans over three decades. DJ Chintam worked as a record buyer before opening his Blow Up shop in Tokyo’s Shibuya district in 2018. He is. specialist of soul, funk and rare grooves. Together, they wrote the Wamono A-Z record guide in 2015, which sold out instantly. This record focusses on rare funk fusion tunes between 1968 and 1980. It is not available on digital format which makes it all the more special to me.
A1 –Toshiko Yonekawa – Sōran Bushi
A2 –Takeo Yamashita – A Touch Of Japanese Tone
A3 –Tadaaki Misago & Tokyo Cuban Boys – Jongara Reggae
A4 –Chikara Ueda & The Power Station – Cloudy
A5 –Chumei Watanabe – Downtown Blues
B1 –Kifu Mitsuhashi – Hanagasa Ondo
B2 –Monica Lassen & The Sounds – Incitation
B3 –Norio Maeda, Jiro Inagaki & The All-Stars – Go Go A Go Go
B4 –Akira Ishikawa & Count Buffalo & The Jazz Rock Band – The Sidewinder
B5 –Masahiko Sato*, Jiro Inagaki & Big Soul Media – Sniper’s Snooze
Wamono means Japanese made or in the Japanese style. If you have ever been within a one mile radius of me, you will be keenly aware that I have visited Japan. Alas I did not have the time or desire then to explore Japanese music in any depth. So I was most pleased, years later, to find this album advertised on BandCamp quite by chance. Sadly I cannot embed any videos of this vinyl so you will have to take my word for it.
In light of the above, I shall condense this review to three standout tracks for me, the first being the opening number. With a genre as rare as obscure Japanese funk fusion, it stands to reason they should open with a showstopper. Soran Bushi is an amazing opener, beginning as an almost generic funk piece before being turbo charged by wonderful shamisen playing. The shamisen is a three stringed Japanese guitar. For reference, please see the video below. Overall the track is a terrific fresh take on the funk genre and took me completely by surprise.
My second highlight is also on side one of the record but is the last track. Downtown Blues promotes another traditional instrument, the fue or shinobue flute. This is a flute which emits a high pitched sound, integral to noh and kabuki theatre music. Please find a lovely performance below. The track itself is a beautifully structured, engaging and energetic funk fusion piece, which, once again, totally took me by surprise.
Hanagasa Ondo deserves a special mention. This track features a vibraphone which I came to love listening to early Lionel Hampton records when I was younger. This combined with the fue and outstanding drumming and a terrific groove, then catapulted by electric guitar make for a truly spectacular track. One is severely tempted to stand up and boogie. Also, by some miracle, I have managed to find a youtube video of the second track on side two, which is really outstanding. Please see it embedded below. This was the fifth track on the 1970 Japan release only album Woman! by Monica Lassen and the Sounds and was designed to be a study of female behaviour. To this end, I would ask you to ignore the vulgar sounds in the middle of the track and focus on the excellent groovy sound! This track is demonstrative of the overall excellence of this compilation.
Sidewinder is my final highlight of this album. I should like to say each track is uniquely joyous in it’s own way and really very cool. The sidewinder is a track I have been familiar with for some time. This reimagined Japanese funk fusion version by Akira Ishikawa & Count Buffalo & The Jazz Rock Band somehow manages to enhance an already excellent tune. The Sidewinder was originally a 10 1/2 minute whopping track by Lee Morgan, Jazz trumpeter, on the excellent 1964 album by the same name. This version is just excellent, lively, driven and funky.
Ultimately, this compilation is a whirlwind album which took me to all sorts of places, many of them new. I would ask you to buy it but I do not make a penny from this blog so I shall let you make the decision for yourselves. I for one have been bowled over by the originality and newness of this album. This will certainly be prime listening at my next dinner party, whenever that may be…