Mates’ Crates, a series headed up by our friend Andrei Sandu, dives into the tales behind records and digs deeper into our connections to music. This time, another stellar find from We Out Here’s record store: Japanese jazz icon Kimiko Kasai.
Label: CBS/Sony | Year: 1977 | Discogs: Kimiko Kasai - Tokyo Special
As if walking into the tent and immediately spotting Michael Wycoff’s “Love Conquers All” wasn’t enough, it only took a quick browse of Kay Suzuki’s Time Capsule Records to spot another album I’ve been after for years because it features Kimiko Kasai’s “Vibration (Love Celebration)”. It’s simply beautiful, owing in no part to songwriter Tatsuro Yamashita, the king of City Pop, whose “For You” is a grail record and whose wife Mariya Takeuchi probably introduced you to the genre on YouTube.
I’ve been hooked on “Vibration” since I first heard it sampled on Jimmy Rouge’s house edit “Dorian”, but as with so many Japanese gems, shipping costs are eye-watering. So holding a copy on that warm Friday afternoon was already exciting. Then I listened to the rest of the album.
“A Life Worth Living” was written by bassist Isao Suzuki who learned to play on US military bases before moving to New York and playing with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. I thought I recognised this one, and realised I’d heard the more famous cover version with English lyrics by Noriko Miyamoto on one of Guts and Mambo’s compilations. “Very Special Moment” is another heater featuring seminal Japanese jazz trumpeter Terumasa Hino, whose “City Connection” is another must-have.
“Take Me” was written by pianist Hiromasa Suzuki, who performed with Akira Ishikawa & His Count Buffaloes (a stellar name behind a stellar 1975 jazz funk album). The album’s closing track, “Laid Back, Mad, Or Mellow” (stellar names everywhere) was written by Akiko Yano, wife of the late Ryuichi Sakamoto of Yellow Magic Orchestra. Japanese talent overload.
Born in Kyoto in 1945, Kasai’s interest in jazz was sparked at 13 when she heard Chris Connor’s “All About Ronnie”. Aged just 16, she moved to Tokyo and started performing in jazz clubs. After releasing her first solo album in 1970, Kasai sang the advertising jingle for the world’s first instant cup noodle ramen in 1971, then signed to CBS records in 1972 - events unlikely to have been correlated.
Over her decades-long career, Kasai worked with countless jazz stars including Stan Getz and Herbie Hancock. It was with Hancock that she recorded probably her most famous album, Butterfly, in 1979, featuring the fantastic “I Thought It Was You” and an outstanding version of Stevie Wonder’s “As”. Kasai was no stranger to a good cover - see her take on Bill Withers’ “Use Me” from 1975.
Kasai quit music in the late 1980s to design jewellery, and in 1990 wed producer Richard Rudolph, who had previously worked with everyone from 2Pac to Chaka Khan. Rudolph previously been married to Minnie Ripperton and co-wrote many of her hits including “Lovin’ You” and “Inside My Love”.
So as you soak in the web of talent associated with this record, lean back and enjoy the Love Celebration.
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