This review originally appeared as part of my ‘Brought To Your Attention’ series, where I unearth obscure and forgotten soundtracks and interesting music from the 60’s to now.

The Far East Family Band from Japan, take on the mettle of Pink Floyd, whist producing an ethereal krautrock/progressive album of inspired beauty.

 

It shouldn’t lay undisturbed any longer.

 

‘Nipponjin’

 

New age posturing from The Far East Family Band in 1975.

 

Originally released in 1975 on Vertigo, re-released on Mu Land and Phoenix Records (CD Version 2009/ Limited Edition Vinyl Version 2010).

 

Side 1.

 

1. Nipponjin     (16:51)

2. The Cave     (8:37)

 

Side 2.

 

1. Undiscovered Northern Land     (2:54)

2. Timeless     (4:26)

3. The God Of Water     (2:06)

4. River Of Soul     (8:28)

5. The God Of Wind     (2:33)

6. Moovin’ Lookin’     (1:39)

7. Yamato      (0:48)

8. Mystery Of Northern Space     (5:57)

 

Personnel –

Akira Fukakusa – Bass
Hirohito Fukushima – Guitar and vocals
Yujin Harada – Drums
Akira Ito – Keyboards
Fumio Miyashita – Guitar, keyboards and vocals
Masanori Takahashi – Keyboards and percussion
Shizuo Takasaki – Drums

Described as Japan’s very first prog-rock band, The Far East Family Band certainly encapsulated all the right components that go towards making up this genre.

Dream-like enriched flights of melodic fancy – check.

New Age themes – check.

Epic drawn out lengthy songs – check.

Ancient civilizations invoked through the thorough use of indigenous instrumentation, ergo panpipes – check.

Transcendental steering sitars – check.

Long drawn out arching guitar solos, played out on the high plains of some desolate awe-inspiring moonscapes – check.

It’s all there played out in abundance.

Our children of the rising sun originally formed their group in the early 70’s, the main instigators being vocalist/guitarist Fumio Miyashita and keyboard virtuoso Masanori Takahashi, who together went under the moniker Far Out.

Takahashi, also known at a later date as the solo artist Kitaro, made a trip to Europe, where he was turned onto the latest developments in music, especially Germany and in particular Klaus Schulze.

Former Tangerine Dream member and leader of the space cadet degenerates Ash Ra Tempel, Schulze took something of a shine to his new friend and agreed to travel with him back to Japan to produce an album.

In 1974 the group had changed their name to the now familiar title, releasing the ethereal progressive proto-krautrock ‘The Cave Down To Earth’ LP, a Schulze produced follow-up would continue along the same lines, going as far as to re-record some of the material from that album for the new one – ‘Nipponjin’.

Both records shared the same basic premise of astral travelling through invocative descriptive landscapes, using flowery spiritual language synonymous with bands such as Yes.

The previous album was a journey through the stars, whereas ‘Nipponjin’ was concerned with an exploration of planet Earth.

It must be said that their Teutonic producer has his greasy paws all over this, with bountiful oscillating waves of abstract atmospherics and stirring pulsating synthesized washes of sound and precise pronounced backing directed by wispy harmonious English vocals, this could easily be mistaken for a lost forgotten Schulze krautrock classic.

The opening motif of the title track sets up the initial concept, and is carried on throughout, reprised at intervals in the form of a signature tune.

Sometimes they really manage to soar to divine inspirational heights and rapturous aplomb, all the while making approving nods to Pink Floyd – comparisons are immediately apparent from the very first bars to the last, the vocals especially.

‘Nipponjin’ further strays in-between the influences of early Amon Duul II and King Crimson’s ‘In The Court Of The Crimson King’, whilst delicately re-interrupting the more lush balled like melodies of The Moody Blues along the way.

The mini opus introductory song runs to over 16 minutes, taking in various highs and gentle breathless lows, which proceeds through the whole light and shade gambit, including a look towards the east, with Indian styled mantras and the obligatory use of sitar.

A turn towards the cosmos is called for on ‘The Cave’, as our astronauts’ fly around the nebula before returning to Earth and traversing across mountains and through ancient haunted passageways, untouched by humans.

Distant rolling toms and lost in the mists of time bass lines emerge from the depths, arriving to a rousing crescendo of well-timed grooving, that comes across like a sophisticated straight Spooky Tooth jamming with Santana.

On the flip side we find an almost uninterrupted stream of minor story arks, stretched out like a travelogue heavy plot.

With ‘Undiscovered Northern Land’ they pull out those panpipes and attempt to evoke some kind of trip to the Andes, laying on thick the melodramatic voices used on Popol Vuh’s ‘Aguirre and ‘Nosferatu’ soundtracks to further set up a dramatic and somewhat haunting scene.

‘River Of Soul’ sounds like a perfect incidental segue way for the Monkey series, whilst ‘Moovin’ Lookin’ lays on some acid induced embarrassing narrative, all touchy feely and rambling about the trees in a rather lame manner.

The final track ‘Mystery Of Northern Space’, reprises once again the main themes, but with some added dolorous swells of Axlerod inspired strings. An enlightened final farewell spin around the world, for old times sake, performed to diaphanous orchestration and restrained but epic well mapped out musicianship draws the album to an end.

Schulze does a sterling job with the production, creating a balanced thoughtful album, where every moment is rehearsed and crafted to the nth degree.

Those Germanic/English vocal twangs could be slightly higher in the mix, but that’s really a minor criticism when judged against the triumphant overall ambitious results.

‘Nipponjin’ sits extremely well amongst its peers, the heavy influences merely encouraging rather then acting as a form of painting by numbers tribute.

A definite addition to any right thinking fan of either prog or krautrock, but if you want a vinyl copy you’d better hurry, as they’ve only pressed a thousand copies.

Dominic Valvona

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: