Toshiaki Yokota and Genshi Kyodotai - Primitive Community. 1971 Japan

Well... here it is. An album only whispered by a few in the know. A Knights Templar secret for the ages. Yesterday, I spoke of Heavyrock's amazing collection. This isn't one he owns. He had to buy a CD-R transfer from a Japanese dealer who was keeping it closely guarded. And it wasn't cheap. And this from someone he buys a lot from! But since the original sells for a few thousand, what are you going to do?

The most prominent member here is Yokota's constant electric guitar companion - Kimio Mizutani. Just the mere mention of Mizutani usually has heads like me scrambling for a listen. There's also a track listing... and it's all originals save one cover - a Beatles instrumental called 'Flying' from their Magical Mystery Tour album. The Beatles, of course, were not known for their instrumentals. A full dissertation on this song can be found here. It's important to note that there are almost no covers, as Yokota had a few pay-the-bills albums like "Exciting Flute" and "Young Young Flute" that are nothing but jazz flute renditions of Bacharach, Simon and Garfunkel, Blood Sweat & Tears, ad nauseum.

So now it's time to pull back the curtain, and display the contents....

I feel like I'm in a Steve Berry novel here...

Toshiaki Yokota and Genshi Kyodotai is at the meeting place of jazz and rock. That exciting time at the turn of the 1970 decade, long before what is commonly referred to as fusion, when the ambition of free jazz met with rock's exciting psychedelic nature. It wasn't important to display Berklee-trained chops, but rather it was about texture, atmosphere and creativity at its most radical. But fortunately it stops short of free jazz's reckless abandon - that point where it's just noise for the sake of noise. There is meaning to every note, instrument and pattern. As well, we get a peek-through-the-bushes look at a Japanese sacrificial ritual as described by the tribal drumming, Hammond organ shards, wordless monk chanting, Yokota's flute and Mizutani's acid fuzz guitar blazing a wah wah trail all to be one with Kami. And that's before we get to the Hare Krishna chorus. An album like this becomes mythical because it is mystical. It's in the same league of sixth dimensioners like Älgarnas Trädgård's Framtiden Är Ett Svävande Skepp, Förankrat I Forntiden, Lula Côrtes e Zé Ramalho's Paêbirú or Pierrot Lunaire's Gudrun. If Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser had heard this band, they would have been signed to the Ohr label on the spot.

This album perfectly fits my idea of a freaky underground album. No, it's not the greatest album of all time. Or even close. But it is the kind that you want to listen to over and over. Because it's fascinating and exhilarating.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Think

It was only a year ago that this album was a complete unknown - only whispered about in quiet dark corners. An album that costs as much as a down payment on a house. I was fortunate enough to obtain a CD-R copy from my friend Heavyrock, and presented what I believe to be the first ever expose about the album, on the CDRWL. This was followed by more coverage on the internet including Yokota himself - and less than a year later, we have a full blown reissue - in the mini-LP format no less! Think is Disc Union's new jazz oriented label, and they really opened with a whopper! This reissue alone is validation enough for me that the CDRWL was well worth the time to do. The review below is what I wrote last year (with slight variations). Also please see my review of Flute Adventure first. It's worth reading, just to give some slight background on Yokota himself.

Sunlight - Creation of Sunlight. 1968 USA

Excellent sunshine pop psych with harmony vocals, flute,organ, fuzz guitar. Frequently compared to the early Strawberry Alarm Clock albums, and that's a fair comparison - though not near as consistent overall.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Lion Productions

The CD is a fantastic job with historical liner notes, and a rare single, of which one of the two songs is unique. Watch out for bootlegs of this title as they were numerous prior to Lion's reissue.

Within collector circles, the band has always been known as Creation of Sunlight. However, according to the liner notes of the CD, the band was called Sunlight and Creation of Sunlight is the album title. Despite being on the quirky Windi label, which was based in Utah, the group were from Long Beach, CA. Windi is most famous for releasing the Merkin album.

Mahoujin - Babylonia Suite. 1978 Japan (archival)

Mahoujin was quite a discovery for Made in Japan back in the early 90s. Probably the best of their archival finds (another title from this series that we recently featured is Round House). Mahoujin are quite simply an instrumental progressive rock band performed by a keyboard trio. It runs the gamut of similarly minded trios starting with the obvious - ELP - and moving on to Trace, Egg, Triumvirat and even Le Orme. Plenty of polysynths and mellotron to absorb. The music never really takes off, or gets chaotic. However it is highly melodic, and the pace varies enough to hold the attention span in check. I've owned this CD for 20 years, and it's always a good one for a revisit.

Personal collection
CD: 1991 Made in Japan

RYM lists the group as Mahojin, though the spine of the CD marks it as Mahoujin. Probably another lost in translation situation. As well, the cover scan I've provided comes from RYM, and it's been doctored. The original CD cover is not as colorful - more like a typical medieval European painting which is what the cover emulates.

Dr Tree - s/t. 1976 New Zealand

Dr Tree's sole album is one of the hottest fusion albums of the 1970s. That's a pretty bold statement given the multitude of albums in the genre, but for those that know the album, it remains true. A 6 piece, with dual percussion, fiery guitar, Fender Rhodes, bass and.... trumpet. This latter element adds a unique dimension. And while you may be thinking this will put it in the Miles Davis camp, that wouldn't be right either. This isn't the heavy deep groove of Miles (which would have been fantastic as well), but more like the high energy of prime Return to Forever with trumpet as one of the lead instruments. Obviously plenty of room is also left for the guitarist to shred and the keyboardist to fly. The two percussionist's keep the tunes hopping throughout. Considered by fusion fans as a must own. Just be sure to get the only legit version as discussed above!

As an aside, you may be asking where the period is on Dr(.)? It doesn't appear anywhere on the album, though I do think it is meant to be short for Doctor - rather than just the Dr letters. (see comments for an explanation).

Personal collection
CD: 2007 EMI

If you're looking to obtain this title, be very careful. Most of the versions that are available here in the US are bootlegs, in one case a pirate attempt was released after this legit version. The CD I own is printed by EMI New Zealand and is pretty much a straight reissue, with unique liner notes about the band. Almost assuredly you will need to import this directly from New Zealand. Look on ebay (which is where I got mine), or you can get them from this shop based in NZ.

Rock Workshop - s/t + The Very Last Time. 1970-1971 England

Rock Workshop were yet another early 70s horn rock band, when that sound was all the rage, due to the massive popularity of Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago. In England you could find other bands in this style like Heaven and Brainchild. Lead by jazz guitarist Ray Russell, Rock Workshop had the pedigree to go far. Musically, the band played both sides of the horn rock spectrum - from blues to jazz. The music never really goes off the rails, rather opting to clearly try to grind out a hit, as Ray Russell grouses about in retrospect in the liner notes. All the same, there are plenty of super tracks found on both albums (including the bonus tracks). Good fuzz bass, acid guitar and advanced horn charts. As readers of my blogs know, I like a good horn rock album - and no doubt Rock Workshop are in the top half of the genre. While I wouldn't call this top tier like the aforementioned Brainchild or Heaven albums, Rock Workshop is a fine example of the UK brass rock style. The bonus tracks on The Very Last Time are awesome, showing the band at their most raw and progressive, and thus the more recommended of the two CDs.

Personal collection
CD (Rock Workshop): 2002 Angel Air
CD (The Very Last Time): 2004 Angel Air

Each CD features copious bonus tracks, band written liner notes, previously unreleased photos. Excellent reissues. These were released on a high profile label like Angel Air, no doubt due to the fact that the leader of Rock Workshop was none other than relatively famous jazz guitarist Ray Russell's band.

Surgery - Übermorgen. 1980 Germany

Yet another unknown German fusion album from the late 70s and early 80s. File along with the "German M" groups like Moira, Mosaik, Munju, Missus Beastly and Morpheus. Some pretty hot psychedelic guitar, especially on the first side. Superb unison melodies with the sax and electric piano. Can get to be a bit breezy on Side 2, though some of it reminded me of Ash Ra's Correlations in the guitar work oddly enough. A Latin jazz vibe pervades. Very good representation of the style.

Personal collection
CD: 2010 Garden of Delights

The CD features 10 bonus tracks, history, and photos.

I Teoremi – s/t. 1972 Italy

I Teoremi was one of the few early 1970s Italian progressive rock albums that I didn't care for initially. I bought the first CD as soon as it came out (Vinyl Magic), and ditched it immediately. But that was my mistake. I Teoremi is more of a guitar based hard rock album, with elements of progressive rock - mostly found in the shifting rhythms and overall atmosphere. In this way, I Teoremi is more like the first two Il Rovescio della Medaglia albums, or perhaps even Osage Tribe. This shift in mindset allowed me to approach the album differently, and with a whole new appreciation for what it is.

Personal Collection
CD: 2011 Belle Antique (Japan)

Originals on Polaris are insanely rare and expensive. The Belle Antique mini-LP perfectly represents the album in miniature. Well I presume so anyway, not that I've actually seen a real original. The CD features a textured gatefold cover with an inner flip over the vinyl entrance area. It's hard to appreciate the beauty of the cover with the scan provided (taken from the CD and a bit better resolution than what I've typically seen).

Kollektiv - s/t. 1973 Germany

Kollektiv's sole album (and there are two fantastic live and archival releases from Long Hair also worth seeking out) is one of those Krautrock gems that few paid attention to until recent times. Generally panned by the underground rock community as "jazz", this is squarely in what is now known as "Kraut fusion" and had it been on the MPS label (which it should have been probably), would be even more sought after by those into "rare groove". Loads of flute, electric sax, scattered rhythms and the all-important fuzz guitar never too far away. The missing link between Xhol Caravan and the late 70's fusion movement in Germany (Mosaik, Cry Freedom, Morpheus, Katamaran, Munju, etc...)

Personal collection
LP: 1973 Brain
CD: 2007 Long Hair

This is an LP I was fortunate enough to find at a record convention back in 1990 and I still own that copy today (and likely I'll be buried with it). It's a beautiful gatefold cover and comes with a gimmix on the inside portion, that was to be used as a game to mix variations on words like Pop, Rock, and Jazz. It's extremely rare to find the LP with an unperforated sheet and those go for 2 to 3 times the price. Of course my copy has been cut (carefully and very nicely done), so at least I can play the game! The Long Hair CD is first class and has liner notes, photos, and 4 long bonus tracks.

Odissea - s/t. 1973 Italy

The other progressive rock band on RiFi, the label most known for bringing Circus 2000 to the world. Odissea is generally considered a second or third tier Italian progressive work, but I disagree. All the elements of classic Italo-prog are at play here, minus some of the more overt instrumental gymnastics of their peers. The song structures and atmosphere all point to the classic 1973 sound. The gruff and husky vocals recall Jumbo, and I find them highly appealing and very much of their era. I'm not prone to use terms like underrated, but I think this is one case that does apply. The implication is that Odissea are a "soft prog rock" band, but this is by no means a lame singer-songwriter album, and there are plenty of heavy progressive rock moments to be found.

Personal collection
LP: 1973 RiFi
CD: 2011 Belle Antique

This was one of the very first albums I bought on CD without owning the LP first - and according to my database I've owned it since 1990. I like the scan from RYM (shown here), because it is indeed true that almost all original copies suffer from lamination "crinkling".

2012 update: Finally obtained an original, one that I very much wanted to own.

Maneige - Ni Vent... Ni Nouvelle. 1977 Canada

Another band that needs no introduction here. Maneige had decidedly turned to a more fusion stance by this, their 3rd album. If pressed to name a favorite, I would probably pick this album, but the first 4 are fantastic, as is any live recording that was recorded during the mid 1970s. And speaking of which, the 4 live tracks here demonstrate that Maneige were far more unrestrained live than in the studio, and these tracks pack a punch.

Personal collection
LP: 1977 Polydor
CD: 2010 Belle Antique (Japan)

I owned the first legit CD reissue of this album on Kozak for years and just upgraded to the Belle Antique version. I've had the original LP forever, and the album cover is one of my all-time favorites. So much so, that it is always on display at our home. As such, I really wanted the Japanese mini-LP, which is an exact copy of the ProgQuebec version, and includes 4 bonus tracks, though unfortunately leaves off the liner notes.

Area – Arbeit Macht Frei. 1973 Italy

Very well known album that needs no introduction. For my tastes, this is my favorite Area album, closely followed by Crac!. I'm not a huge Area fanboy as many of my friends and peers are, as I tend to shiver at Area's more avant garde and free-jazz moments. Thankfully those are kept at a minimum on their debut album, where the tight unison ensemble work allows Stratos to showcase his unconventional vocal style, which I do enjoy when not done to excess.

Personal collection
LP: 1973 Cramps
CD: 2007 Strange Days / Universal (Japan)

The 2011 Japan mini-LP truly replicates the original gatefold and includes the cardboard gun. I have a Cramps original on LP, but like most copies, it does not include the gun.

Round House - Jin Zo-Ni N Gen. 1978 Japan (archival)

There was a time in the late 1970s that Japan's progressive rock scene was completely underground, with little to no formal product output to show for it. This was before the "Our 80's" as Marquee Magazine labeled it a decade later. When I started collecting Japanese progressive rock in the 1980s heyday (for Japan that is), the two premier names in the business were Kenso and Bi Kyo Ran. Round House is clearly cut from the same cloth, where both fusion and King Crimson influences are apparent. A complex instrumental fusion, that never loses focus on melodic composition. The group is a quintet made up with dual guitar leads, and plenty of electric piano.

If there's a complaint, it's that the sound quality wasn't quite ready for prime time. That's not to say it's audience bootleg quality either - but some of the dynamics are clearly lost. I'd say it's at 85% - and heck I know plenty of pure studio albums even today that sound worse than that. There were very few archival releases in 1991, so Made in Japan is to be much lauded for the effort here.

Round House's sole album was compiled from two different 1978 sessions (studio and live).

Personal collection
CD: 1991 Made in Japan

Most of the cover scans on the internet are from the 2003 reissue. The one I have pasted is more like mine, except the Made in Japan Records has been rubbed out (I believe this is from a pirate version). I couldn't find the original and I'm too lazy to scan mine in.

Orion - La Nature Vit, L'Homme Lui Critique… 1979 France

In the early 1970s, Ange were the big name in French rock. Combining the progressive rock of Genesis and Yes with theatrical lyrics in the native tongue proved to be all the rage in France during this time. And naturally enough, it spawned an entire music movement with a side benefit of national pride being displayed. Mona Lisa were probably the style's most known student, but plenty of lesser known groups sprung up during this period as well. The CDRWL is filled with them (Trefle, Oniris, Ada Le Fol and many others). Musea, too, in the early 1990s did their part in educating the world on this most unique and peculiar French style. Bands like Grime, Pentacle and Synopsis were introduced to us, and the pot seemed endless. Orion was but one of these groups - and certainly one of the more inspired bands of the era. Flute, electric and acoustic guitars, a hyper rhythm section, and of course the impassioned vocals define this mature work. There's a touch of Pulsar's space rock sound as well. With the right breaks, Orion could have been huge. But alas, 1979 was too late. I hope that Musea starts up the reissue engine again, and releases the remainder of these great bands as demonstrated in the CDRWL.

Personal collection
CD: 1993 Musea

The CD features a great sound, bonus tracks, liner notes, photos. For whatever reason, the band chose to go with a new sleeve. I kind of like the original myself, goofy as it is. The newer one is soooo 1990s clip-art.

Eider Stellaire - s/t. 1981 France

Moving this one to the current date. The below review was originally published on my personal website in 2007, and later here on UMR in 2009. Now we can celebrate the CD reissue, which just arrived this week!

Magma. Zeuhl. I could quit right there, and have served my purpose for many readers. Michel Le Bars ensemble was clearly developed with Christian Vander in mind. But he didn't Xerox the playbook and go off and play pretend. Instead Le Bars took some core formations and then added his own twists and turns, to create one of the best Zeuhl formulas to come along. Ever.

So where are these difference to be found? Vocals for one thing. Or lack thereof. There are no made up Germanic languages or the lingua franca of Eskaton being employed. There are, however, some nice wordless female vocals adding a softer non-threatening Northettes touch to the proceedings. Then there's the guitar. That's right, think about it. Electric guitar on a Zeuhl album. It's a rare species. It does exist, but mainly as an accent instrument. Not so on Eider Stellaire's debut. It's featured often, and adds quite a sizzle especially when paired with some fuzz bass. And, as on any Zeuhl album, if the bass player isn't driving the music forward - and you into oblivion - then quite frankly he's not doing his job. And Patrick Sinergy is up to the task. He may not be Top or Paganotti, but I don't think either of them would be unimpressed either. Electric piano is another staple of the business, and once again, Eider Stellaire succeeds at driving the pace with this perfectly tuned instrument. Add in some delicate flute and melodic sax to provide a little yang, and you have one great instrumental rock album, as only it seems the French can do. And don't bring up the Japanese zeuhl bands to me. Just don't. Oddly enough, the only instrumentalist that doesn't shine is Le Bars himself. On the drumkit, no one is going to forget Vander anytime soon. That's OK - as in sports, the best coaches are rarely the best players. Brilliant.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Soleil Zeuhl

Originals - especially with the cover as displayed above - are extremely rare. The CD features a great sound, and one excellent, lengthy bonus track. And it's 100% legit - woohoo! For years I had heard this one would NEVER be reissued. I didn't believe them. More importantly, neither did Alain at Soleil Zeuhl.

Skywhale - The World at Mind's End. 1977 England

Skywhale's sole album is one of the rare non-Canterbury UK fusion albums that sound more in line with what was happening over the Chan...