REISSUE REVIEWS SPECIAL: Dominic Valvona

Ryuichi Sakamoto ‘Esperanto’ 19th November 2021
Omar Khorshid ‘Giant + Guitar’  26th November 2021
(Both Released By WEWANTSOUNDS)

Reissue specialists WEWANTSOUNDS have been busy this last couple of months, unearthing both cult sounds and previously scare treasures from Japan and the Middle East; many of which have until now never been released outside there own domains.

You may very well have seen my last review of the label’s Makota Kubota & The Sunset Gang’s 1972 tropical ragtime ‘Hawaii Champroo album; the first of a trio of such 70s nuggets from the former Les Rallizes Dénudés band member, the other two titles being the eponymous Sunset Gang and Dixie Fever (released just last month) albums. The first of those records also featured the talents of future Yellow Magic Orchestra instigator Haruomi Hosono, which ties in nicely with today’s feature; his comrade-in-arms on that pioneering electronic voyage, Ryuichi Sakamoto and his mid eighties avant-garde synthesizer and computer programmed loop and cut-up Esperanto album, which is being reissued for the first time outside Japan by WEWANTSOUNDS this month.


Already riding the visionary synth waves with the already mentioned YMO, and through his inspirational projects with David Sylvian, Sakamoto went on to score success with the plaintive Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence soundtrack. The sixth solo release in that oeuvre however was a return to his leftfield, challenging roots: a marked change from the semi-classical emotional pulls of the harrowing film soundtrack. A kind of cutting edge theatre and ballet, Esperanto was composed for a performance by the New York choreographer Molissa Fenlay with contributions from Lounge Lizard, experimentalist guitarist Arto Lindsay and the Japanese percussionist Yas-Kaz. You’ll have to use your imagination to how it all worked visually – though later on art luminaries Kit Fitzgerald and Paul Garrin turned this soundtrack into a conceptual video project.
 
Sounding very much of its time, on the burgeoning apex of dance music and early hip-hop, electro, this polygenesis experiment often evokes both the Art Of Noise and Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rockit’. Using a super-sized computer and state-of-the-art tech, Sakamoto merged futuristic Japanese theatre with a mechanical Ballets Russes, workshop shunts and huffs with the plastic, and electronic body music with Hassell’s fourth world music inspirations.

Snatches of voices, dialogue get cut-up and looped in a primal techno performance of mechanics, rippled and tapping corrugated percussion, synth waves and oscillations, serial piano dashes and rolls, and Japanese spiritual garden enchantments. At any one time you can pick up the echoes of Glass, Stockhausen, Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Eno and Populäre Mechanik within the often mysterious, exotic performativity. Motoring, bobbing or in staccato mode, Sakamoto produces a futurist dance set of suspense and experiment; an omnivorous feast of programmed and real sounds. Though very dated by today’s technological wizardry standards, the electro workshop Esperanto remains an iconic, very much sought after work well worth its admission price and reissue.

And now for something completely different: as they say. No less experimental in its own way, the latest legendary title from the late Middle Eastern travelling guitarist Omar Khorshid finds the Egyptian icon experimenting with Oriental music. Recorded during the self-exiled years (when Omar moved to Beirut to escape the tumult of Egypt’s war with Israel and the oil embargo crisis) Giant + Guitar is another instrumental songbook of covers (both standards from Nour Al Mallah, Mohamed Abdel Wahab get the desired treatment) and original material that transcends geography and musical styles. Saying that there’s an unmistakable undulation, trinket percussion and shimmer of belly dancing. Those from the record company at the time thought so too, releasing this album with an alternative, belly dancer focused cover, and renaming it Rhythms From The Orient.
 
Sitting astride his motorbike on this version of the album – a premonition, augur of the fatal crash that would kill him only seven years later –, Omar’s in transit; cutting a dash as playboy and matinee star (which he was, having acted in a number of films). The music itself has the spirit of surf twanged and tremolo rock ‘n’ roll meets an Arabian Wild West and the Sublime Porte. Often these exotic enchantments imagine a camel riding Ennio Morricone cantering across sand dunes, or Django Reinhardt twirling notes in the bazar. Certain Dick Dale like twangs ride up and up Arabian scales, and gaze out across a Hellenic and Franco-African Med.

Bedouin vibes cross paths with the courtly, and dance elegantly and in rip-roaring fashion up and down the neck of Omar’s guitar. To this dazzling intricacy and craft there’s a certain kitsch production of sound effects, reverb, zaps and burbles. It all sounds a little Joe Meek when this happens, but is all good fun. Not so space age a recurring organ gives the music both a soulful (bordering on Gospel) and even psychedelic feel. Its mostly used as incipient drone; something to stir or create the mood, which can often be romantic or gazing.

Shake, rattle and hung, Omar let’s rip with the constant blur of nimble fret work, speeding back and forth, spiralling and amorphously conjuring up a myriad of refrains and riffs. But yes, you can’t help seeing those belly-dancing ladies, with their bejewelled navels gyrating to the exotic Egyptian sounds. It reads as god as it sounds. So what are you waiting for? Do yourselves a favour and pick up this guitar legends album now.

Whilst I have your attention, the label’s next release continues an excavation of Japanese nuggets with a neon-lit DJ like set of 80s city pop, funk and boogie from the Nippon Columbia label vaults. Selector on this sleek drive is DJ Notoya, who picks out moonlight flits and swimmingly dreamy spells from Makoto Iwabuchi, Hitomi ‘Penny’ Tohyama and Hatsumi Shibata. Under the Tokyo Glow title that compilation of future-pop gems will be released on the 10th of December – just enough time to fill the Christmas stocking this year.          

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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