Toshiyuki Miyama & His New Herd - Tsuchi No Ne. 1973 Japan

This album was first described to me (see below) as complex horn rock meets Ian Carr's Nucleus meets Vortex (70s French underground band). I would also state it sounds like Dizzy Gillespie meets Art Zoyd with a dash of early 70s Miles Davis. Yes, it's a unique album to say the least. I've only heard one other New Herd album, the Yamataifu album mentioned below, and it was too "out jazz" for me. This album, however, is definitely within the rails, and I found it highly enjoyable.

As usual, the AC provides a full review with insights. What a treasure of information this gentleman is!

"Nippon Columbia: NCB-7023 (Adventure In Sound series), 1973, Japan

Toshiyuki Miyama - Conductor
Yasuhiro Koyama - Composer
Kozaburo Yamaki - Electric Guitar, Composer
Masaaki Itoh - Electric Bass
Isao Yomoda - Drums
Kiyoshi Takano - Piano, Electric Piano
Kazumi Takeda - Trumpet
Shin Kazuhara - Trumpet
Yoshikazu Kishi - Trumpet
Shuji Atsuta - Trumpet
Teruhiko Kataoka - Trombone
Masamichi Uetaka - Trombone
Tokura Seiichi - Trombone
Takehide Uchida - Trombone
Kazumi Oguro - Alto Sax, Soprano Sax
Eiji Toki - Alto Sax
Mamoru Mori - Tenor Sax
Seiji Inoue - Tenor Sax
Shigeru Hirano - Baritone Sax

Side 1:

1 - Youkai Kappa Konnichi Izuko Sumi Ya
- Kappa Torai No Tsuchi
- Mokuhi No Yotabi
- Bourei No Numa
- Okugidenjushiki
- Neneko No Nakibushi
- Senshouiwaiutae Shinkokka

Side 2:

1 - Kurozuka

Band leader Toshiyuki Miyama and his New herd orchestra were a ubiquitous presence in the 70s Japanese music scene, churning out album after album of mainly straight big band jazz, along with some typical pop-covers/exploitation fare. However, during the heady days of the early 70s "New Rock" boom, they did find themselves experimenting on a few interesting LPs. There was the relatively well-known "Yamataifu", a collaboration with famous pianist Masahiko Satoh, as well as the more obscure "Eternity?/Epos", working once again with Satoh along with drummer Masahiko Togashi and a percussion ensemble. They were soon to abandon this adventurous direction (along with most of the many seasoned jazzmen, studio musicians, and bewildered major label executives who had been temporarily sucked into the psychedelic vortex of New Rock Japan), but not before leaving behind one more dark jewel in the rubble. "Tsuchi No Ne - Nippon Densetsu No Naka No Shijou", roughly translates to "Sound of the Earth - The Poetry in Japanese Legends", and like a number of other classics of the era, it attempted to draw on the essence of ancient Japanese folklore and mythology as inspiration for a new and radical kind of music. But "Tsuchi No Ne" is somewhat different from its musical peers, choosing to dwell on the dark, sinister side of these myths and legends. This is quite evident in both the striking cover art and the track titles themselves, referencing ghosts, grotesque monsters (the Kappa, a hideous river-dwelling creature thought to drag unsuspecting victims to a watery grave) and a macabre Noh drama about a vile man-eating ogress. Most importantly, this theme infuses the music, a fascinating mixture of electric big band jazz-rock and what can only be called avant-prog, despite the seeming incongruity of applying that term to an early 70s Japanese jazz album. Two mammoth side-long pieces are on offer here, the first a suite divided into six smaller sections, composed by regular New Herd guitarist Kozaburo Yamaki, the second a monolithic opus penned by film and television soundtrack composer Yasuhiro Koyama. Certain comparisons can be drawn to the more rigorous side of early British jazz-rock (Soft Machine circa 5/6 and the best of Ian Carr's Nucleus) and perhaps also to the most complex horn rock works of the era, due to the heavy brass presence of the big band. But interestingly, what I'm reminded of most is classic French avant-prog/jazz-rock of a slightly later vintage. In particular, I'm thinking of Vortex's shadowy masterpiece "Les Cycles de Thanatos", as well as some of Yochk'o Seffer's great works with Zao and Neffesh Music. The strange, dark tension and compositional complexities are very similar, and quite unmistakable to my ears. However, these comparisons can only go so far. Distinctly Japanese atmospheres are palpable, and Yamaki's wicked fuzz/wah guitar-work will not let you forget what era we are truly in here. This is a special album, in my opinion, and certainly deserving of a much wider audience. Unfortunately, as is often the case with these things, it's by far Miyama's rarest LP, until now only known and cherished by the small group of Japanese collectors aware of its quality. Miyama's back-catalogue has not seen much action in the CD reissue market, so I'm afraid this album might be doomed to spend eternity trapped in its own dusky realm. Here's to hoping that I'm wrong."

And would you believe? He was wrong! And I'm sure he's happy about it too!

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Columbia

Here's an album that you would have no chance of finding originally, unless you could read kanji or knew what the cover looked like. There are these records from Japan that are so obscure and buried, that even hardcore collectors living in Tokyo do not know about. But they're beginning to surface ever so slowly. There were a lot of surprise CD reissues in 2012, but perhaps none blindsided me as much as this one. I suspect original LPs are of this can be found for 50 cents or $2,000 depending on where you're looking.

Last listen: January 25, 2018

Heaven - Brass Rock 1. 1971 England

As noted below, I first ran into Brass Rock 1 at a local record convention sometime in the mid 1980s. With the long tracks and expanded lineup, I figured it would be right up my alley. It was only a few bucks, so I decided to take a chance. And it was indeed up my alley, except it wasn’t what I expected. This wasn’t a typical 1970s progressive rock album. In fact, the only album I had like it back then, were the early Chicago Transit Authority albums. But Heaven were different from CTA as well. The compositions were more complicated, and the horn section was more diverse (Heaven featured a 5 piece horn section verse Chicago’s three). There really aren’t any pop tracks on Heaven, the closest they get to "normal" rock were the more blues influenced numbers. And even those were because of the vocalist, who sounded like he drank an entire fifth of scotch minutes before the recording. Almost without exception, each track features lengthy instrumental bits, with quite a bit of horn interplay, changes of meter, dynamic shifts, the whole nine yards. And, maybe best of all in the horn rock genre, a wild guitarist who does his best to attack the wah wah pedal during the solo sections ala Terry Kath. Heaven could mellow out too, and weren’t afraid to mix an acoustic guitar / flute number to set the mood. Since that time of first stumbling onto the Heaven album, I’ve discovered many more horn rock bands, including the UK variety of a US original sound. Other than maybe Brainchild, Heaven is the most developed and, for my tastes at least, the best England has to offer in the brass rock genre. Heaven is wilder than Brainchild, but they do miss that band’s touch for crafting magical melodies.

Personal collection
LP: 1971 CBS
CD: 2008 Esoteric

As shown above, Heaven's sole album features quite an amazing multi-foldout cover. I found a copy at a local record show in the 1980s, and still possess that same double LP. It took many years before a legit CD was released (courtesy of Esoteric), so the album languished in the bootleg market for way too long. The Esoteric CD is fantastic as usual, and offers plenty of history, photos, and the clever idea to design the booklet as multi-foldout poster, just like the original LP. No bonus tracks this time around however.

Galliard - Strange Pleasure. 1969 England

A mixture of typical 1969 horn rock and British styled psychedelic rock, complete with soft affected vocals - along with a clear undercurrent of straight ahead folk-rock mixed with baroque styled classical, that was predominant from the era as well. Honestly I think Galliard are at their best when in brass rock mode (e.g. 'Skillet', 'Pastorale', 'Blood'), and tend to drag a bit when hitting the woods for a bit of folk. There was a distinct compositional improvement on their followup New Dawn, though no doubt the cover art of the debut is more preferable.

Personal collection
CD: 2009 Esoteric

It took many years for both of the Galliard albums to be reissued legitimately. Because of this condition, beware of pirate editions, which proliferated due to this delay. The Esoteric CD is brilliant as usual, with plenty of unique insights and history. It also features two bonus tracks from a rare 45 single.

Baba Scholae - 69. 1969 France-England (archival)

The music found here is an excellent psychedelic / folk rock / proto-progressive album from Jean-Yves Labat's (a.k.a. M Frog) first band (a gentleman most known for his keyboard work with Todd Rundgren's Utopia). Recorded in London with primarily English musicians on board, though Labat himself was French. The first track '1984-Melancolia Street' (8:40), in particular, will send fans of the progressive rock genre into a swoon, with its multiple theme and metric shifts, recalling cutting edge UK outfits such as Cressida and Web ("I Spider" era). Some excellent guitar, sax, bombard (a reed instrument primarily used in Brittany), and flute define this advanced work. Perhaps not mind-blowing on the whole, but given the 1969 date, certainly one to two full years ahead of its time. Fans of the psychedelic infused progressive genre will most definitely want to own this. It's a professional recording preserved for the ages, not some muddy demo that you have to endure to fully appreciate. For something like this to be buried for 43 years is quite extraordinary. Do not miss it!

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Ad Vitam

Contrary to some online discographies, there is no 1969 release. It was strictly a demo shipped to labels for possible release. Perhaps unbelievably, Bearsville was thinking of releasing this one in 1973. One can only imagine this being a common US press. Actually, I wouldn't believe it.

69 is an exquisite archival release from Ad Vitam, a classical-oriented music label owned by Baba Scholae founder Jean-Yves Labat! More info here from our CD Reissue Wish List.

Stomu Yamash'ta - Freedom is Frightening. 1973 Japan-England

Stomu Yamash'ta is one of a handful of Japanese musicians who would hit the shores of England (post Yoko Ono), and in quick order, become one of those East meets West guys. Freedom is Frightening is Yamash'ta's West meets......... West album. Starting with a cosmic organ piece replete with fuzz bass, we might as well be tokin' up with the Berlin Krautrock masters or 1969 Pink Floyd at the very least. But it doesn't take long for Yamash'ta to move his new ensemble over to the flavor of the day - 1973 style: Fusion. And so it goes, we get Brian Auger's Oblivion Express meets Soft Machine playing the sound of Mahavishnu Orchestra. And really, what else can one ask for? I'm certainly buying! Boyle and Hopper would soon after form Isotope to exploit these musical concepts further. But Isotope missed out on the rawness that Yamash'ta provides on Freedom is Frightening. And while you may wish for an Osamu Kitajima Benzaiten type album here, just pretend that Stomu Yamash'ta is a pseudonym for Billy Smith, and you'll get through the mental aspect.

Personal collection
CD: 2008 Esoteric (UK)

While original LPs have always been relatively easy to find, this album surprisingly was absent from the CD market until Esoteric's reissue a few years back. And fortunate for all of us that the first reissue is a high quality one from a respected label. Plenty of liner notes to provide some context around the album. No bonus tracks in this case though.

Baby Grandmothers - s/t. 1967-68 Sweden (archival)

The first two tracks presented here are from an extremely rare 45 single, and can only be considered a truly extraordinary example of what was going on in Northern Europe during this time. Incredible psychedelic guitar from future Kebnekaise guitarist Kenny Hakansson, with otherworldly voices taking you to another universe. This first track is from master tapes and is, by itself, a reason to own this CD (beyond the excellent liner notes from Reine Fiske of course). The second one is from vinyl, but no less interesting musically. A bit slower, but it's a pot boiler! The remainder of the album is made up of live guitar-fronted jams preserved for the ages in variable sound by some foresighted folks. The musical quality is hit and miss, and as with all jam albums, there are peak moments - and ones that get stuck in the ditch for far too long. So 15 minutes of 4.5 star (Gnosis 12) material and 45 minutes of 3 stars (Gnosis 9). But given the historical perspective, and that it's been presented with great care by Subliminal Sounds, this one goes into the "must own" column. If you're looking for the Swedish version of Cream, then you'll find it here.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Subliminal Sounds

Earth and Fire - To the World of the Future. 1975 Netherlands

Having found Top 40 success with 'Maybe Tomorrow, Maybe Tonight', it would seem Earth & Fire would continue down that path, perhaps full bore. To the World of the Future offers up a stay of execution. In some ways, this is their most ambitious album - both from a progressive standpoint, and a commercial one. On the pop side, the most overt pop track is 'Love of Life', which was not surprisingly their first choice for a single. Personally I think this is a great example of the pre-disco era - superb wah-wah rhythm guitar, charming female vocals, synthesizers galore. The other single from this album is 'Only Time Will Tell', which is a less obvious choice, and actually harkens back to their "Atlantis" days with organ, psych guitar, mellotron and powerful vocals from Jerney. On the other side of this coin is the 3 highly ambitious progressive meets fusion tracks: 'The Last Seagull', 'Voice from Yonder' and 'Circus', which are unlike anything the band did before or after (though I suppose 'Circus' could have fit comfortably on "Song of the Marching Children"). This gets us to the title track which is the perfect blend of everything the band is trying to do here. On the one hand there's the funky pop bits, with a chorus that I swear - I mean really swear - sounds like "ahhhhhhh FREAK OUT!" from, yes, that famed New York City disco band Chic ('Le Freak'). One had to think they may have run into this Earth & Fire album prior. Meanwhile, just when you think it's time to bust a move, out come the mellotrons, psychedelic guitar, symphonic dynamics, and complex meters to remind everyone that Earth & Fire are first and foremost still a progressive rock band.

Be sure to get a CD reissue with some of the singles from this era. Most enlightening are the B-Sides to 'Love of Life' and 'Only Time Will Tell' - respectively 'Tuffy the Cat' and 'Fun'. Both tracks are progressively oriented instrumental funk tracks (with loads of mellotron, organ and Fender Rhodes), and are entirely unique for Earth & Fire - and just about anyone really. The 1975 and 1976 singles 'Thanks For the Love' and 'What Difference Does it Make' demonstrate that Earth & Fire no longer hold progressive rock intentions - and have completely sold out to the Euro disco machine. I actually think they're quite good at the style, and I'm sure gave groups like ABBA good competition - but in the end, that's not what Earth & Fire were about, and having lost their way - they ultimately collapsed under their own weight by the early 80s. A tragic, but all too typical tale.

Personal collection
LP: 1975 Polydor
CD: 2011 Esoteric (UK)

Earth and Fire - Atlantis. 1973 Netherlands

Continuing on from Song of the Marching Children, Earth and Fire doubles down on the progressive quotient and throws in yet another high minded concept side long composition. Of course, we all know by now that Earth and Fire is a pop band in progressive dressing, and thus these are individual songs that segue into one another with seemingly no connection beyond the lyrical theme. Side 2 sees the band unmasked for what they really are, with the stunningly simple 'Maybe Tomorrow, Maybe Tonight' - the kind of song that most aspiring Top 40 bands would sell their soul for. This track would propel Earth & Fire to pop stardom, something they were trying to achieve from the beginning, but went about it in an awkward, perhaps academically, self-conscious way. While it may seem I'm looking down my nose at this band, that could not be further from the truth. I love a good melody weaved into a more mysterious compositional style, so in some ways, Earth and Fire are my ideal type of band. Top that with competent musicianship and superb period instrumentation (mellotron, organ, flute, loud psych guitar, sweet feminine vocals), and you have yet another home run from one of the Dutch progressive rock Masters.

Personal collection
LP: 1973 Polydor
CD: 2004 Universal (Japan)

Packaging details: Earth and Fire wisely adopted the style of the inner gatefold of Song of the Marching Children to make arguably their most appealing album cover of the band's entire catalog. The second cover shown above is the dreadful original UK release that I cannot imagine anyone wanting to own in light of the original. There's also a German press, similar to the Dutch original, except it splatters the name of their hit 'Maybe Tomorrow, Maybe Tonight' to ensure they added unnecessary graffiti to a beautiful painting.

Earth and Fire - Song of the Marching Children. 1971 Netherlands

No one would ever accuse Earth and Fire of being a cutting edge group. However, having missed the psych bus by about two years, they did jump on the progressive rock bandwagon in sufficient time to have some historical impact. "Song of the Marching Children" remains one of the most beautiful of the early 70s symphonic pop infused progressive albums. Kaagman's sweet vocals along with Koerts' copious use of mellotron practically define the term lush.

Personal collection
LP: 1971 Polydor
CD: 2004 Universal (Japan)

The original LP features embossed lettering and I've also included the inside of the gatefold, because as you can plainly see, it is quite stunning.

Earth and Fire - s/t. 1970 Netherlands

Earth and Fire were always a pop band at heart, trying to win over current audiences with their brand of "whatever is vogue now". For their 1970 debut, Earth and Fire reached back to the psychedelic-rock-with-female-vocals music of Jefferson Airplane to find success. They do an admirable job of said sound, with a good set of tunes and some excellent acid guitar and heavy organ. Truth is, Earth and Fire's debut came about one or two years too late to have any major impact - though it really is an excellent representation of the style. 'Love Quiver' is the highlight of the 9 originals present, a track that features some glorious fuzz organ work.

Earth and Fire are one of the pillar bands of my Post Psychedelic, Proto Progressive with Female Vocals list.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 Universal (Japan)

As you can plainly see, there were many releases of Earth and Fire's debut. Each label apparently had license to alter the cover to their tastes. The top one is the Dutch original. Next is the UK version on Nepentha, in all its die-cut gatefold Roger Dean glory, and is BY FAR the most desirable (& expensive) original LP copy to own. The third photo is the German release on CBS. 4th is the original Japanese press. And finally we show the Rotation CD that displays only the matches, which is on one of the releases I didn't put up (the Red Bullet LP I believe). 20 years ago, I found the Nepentha LP in a store, but traded it for an album that was my top want at the time - and is arguably worth even more than the Nepentha release today. It was a win-win trade, as I'm certain the gentleman who has my Nepentha LP still treasures it as well. As for reissues, the 1991 press from Japan was the first to market, and I owned that version until the Japanese mini-LP came out. Generally the Japanese stick to the original release when it comes to packaging, but I'm glad they made the exception here and went with the fabulous UK copy.

Cargo - s/t. 1972 Netherlands

I think the key to totally appreciating the sole album by Cargo is to start with the last track, an absolute barnstormer of a song: The 15+ minute ‘Summerfair’. It’s just relentless, like the very best of the Allman Brothers, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush rolled into one. I’m not sure exactly why this track works so much better than others in the genre, though I suspect it has something to do with the soft vocals, hyperactive drumming and blazing wah-wah rhythm guitar. And, of course, the lead guitar leaves me in a sweat every time. By itself, this composition is absolutely perfect. Working backwards, there’s ‘Finding Out’, which starts out in ‘Tobacco Road’ territory before busting out of the gates for yet another intense jam. Then it’s on to track number 2, the fascinating ‘Cross Talking’, which is a neat instrumental concept of wah-wah guitars “talking” back and forth with a cool funky rhythm. And finally, we hit the opener, ‘Sail Away’. The first 4 to 5 minutes are fairly off-putting straight ahead rock and roll, before it too finds its sea legs and gets the album going in the right direction. The bonus tracks demonstrate that the pre-Cargo group September were a simpler and more straightforward rock group.

Cargo is one of my all-time favorite albums. Certainly in my Top 150 ever.

Personal collection
CD: 1993 Pseudonym
LP: 1999 Pseudonym

This was one of the very first albums I learned of stratospheric prices for my (then) newly chosen hobby. Even in the late 1980s this album was a multi-hundred dollar rarity in the catalogs of the day. As such, I never had a chance to hear it until the Pseudonym CD came along a few years later. Pseudonym is a great label, and they do an excellent job with discography details and bonus tracks (no liner notes on this version though). Most of the bonus tracks were from an earlier incarnation when they were known as September. Later in the decade, I dutifully picked up the LP reissue (an exact replica with the Pseudonym logo replacing Harvest), because I had an irrational desire to own it on vinyl ever since I knew of the exorbitant price of the original. Cargo has recently resurfaced on the market again via the Pseudonym imprint. The CD version adds demo versions of the original Cargo album plus many of the same bonus tracks as found on the '93 issue - as well as extensive liner notes this time around. I doubt it's worth upgrading for - though if you don't have it - I must say the album is essential to own! Vinyl hounds will be happy to know that another LP is on the market as well - with some demos added for the second LP of the set.

Thors Hammer - s/t. 1971 Denmark

On Thors Hammer's one album, the band plays a hard driving jazz progressive rock, typical of the UK 1971 movement ala bands like Raw Material, Diabolus, Hannibal, Aquila, etc.. Perhaps an even more accurate portrayal would the German group Nosferatu. An excellent album throughout.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Thors Hammer / Garden of Delights
LP: 2010 Thors Hammer / Garden of Delights

I thought of Thors Hammer the other day, right after publishing The Old Man & The Sea album. Both have similar tales, and are extremely rare in original LP form. And like The Old Man & The Sea, Thors Hammer's sole album flourished in the bootleg market for years. Finally Garden of Delights of Germany came to the rescue with a CD, complete with a full history and great sound (no bonus tracks this time though). They love this album so much, they launched an entire new label for all of their non-German releases to, you got it, Thors Hammer.

Truth and Janey - No Rest for the Wicked. 1976 USA

Truth and Janey are the quintessential Midwest USA hard rock group. But like any band from the 1970s, they add progressive trimmings, and some of the compositions throw in a few more ideas than a typical bonehead rock group. In some ways, Truth and Janey could be looked upon as the American equivalent of the Aussie band Buffalo, that we featured extensively earlier in the year - especially at the time of Only Want You For Your Body. The band Truth started in Cedar Rapids, and eventually added founding member and guitarist Billy Lee Janey to the marquee when it was discovered another Truth had claim to the name. The album was recorded in Ames (where Iowa State University is located), and was initially gobbled up only by the local faithful in Eastern Iowa. Not until the mid to late 1980s when record collecting had gone world wide, did the album gain its fame. If you're looking for a perfect example of a private press hard rock group from Middle America, I'm not sure there's a better example than Truth and Janey. And Billy Lee Janey is one heck of a guitarist!

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Rockadrome

The CD has a chock full of liner notes and a few bonus tracks.

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...