Friday, 18 October 2013

Bach + koto and shakuhachi + jazz trio = J.S. Bach Is Alive And Well And Doing His Thing On The Koto – Tadao Sawai et al (1971)

This rather unusual and improbably named LP marks the moment that I realised I had been neglecting the ‘classical’ bins at the record fairs. I’m not a huge fan of Bach – he’s a bit too chromatic and conventional for my tastes – but I couldn’t go past an album of his music being interpreted by traditional Japanese instrumentation supported by a jazz rhythm section.

How/why did this get made? God only knows, but I suspect that it was conceived and produced by the Japanese players who thought it would be an interesting musical exercise but that it then later made its way into the hands of an American label who thought that the only way to market such a chimera would be with a wacky angle and silly record cover. (As you can see, the cover depicts a gentleman in full baroque regalia whimsically nursing a koto in a traditional Japanese room. It's basically a direct appropriation of the cover concept for Switched On Bach.) The liner notes continue this light-hearted theme with a faux interview with Bach himself who muses on his works, gives his approval to this new interpretation of his music and cracks a few very corny gags. The LP appears to have been released in an earlier incarnation in 1969 with the (slightly) less silly title “A New Sound From The Japanese Bach Scene”.

Despite the label trying to sell this set off as a bit of a joke, the music itself is very well produced and skilfully played. The fusion of the disparate elements of Bach, Japanese traditional and jazz works seamlessly and it’s actually a very congruent listen overall.

Label: RCA
Released: 1971 (Original release 1969)
Players: Tadao Sawai - first koto
Kazue Sawai - second koto
Hozan Yamamoto - shakuhachi
Sadanori Nakamure - guitar
Tatsuro Takimoto - bass
Takeshi Inomata - drums