Agharta (Slight Return)

BUT IT’S NOT SO
Shunzo Ohno
Something’s Coming
East Wind : 1975

SO, trumpet; Reggie Lucas, guitar; Cedric Lawson, keyboards; Masabumi Kikuchi, organ; Don Pate, bass; Roy Haynes, drums.

Okay, so this isn’t quite Agharta-quality space-rock. But Shunzo Ohno’s “But It’s Not So” is a free fusion gem nonetheless. The track is very definitely in the Electric Miles mode, going so far to borrow two key members from Davis’s ensemble — Lucas and Lawson. Add the redoubtable Kikuchi and Roy Haynes and you’ve got quite a globe-spanning supa-group.

Shunzo Ohno, not to be confused with Dr. Ohno, the eccentric hip hop producer on the Stones Throw label, was born in Gifu, a city on the Japanese island of Honshu, in 1949. Early influences included the Blue Note stable of trumpeters — Morgan, Hubbard, Brown — and, if this biographical page is to be believed, his first bit of music writing was for a 51-piece high school orchestra. Ohno left Japan in 1973 at the suggestion of Art Blakey, and waxed this particular tune in New York when he was a mere 25.

Here’s a question: why were the Japanese the only ones making such adventurous fusion at this late point in the 70s? As if they hadn’t received the memo to water down their efforts. Julian Cope’s new Japrocksampler even cites this album as one of the best tributes to Miles “punk-funk” period.

If not mind-expanding, it is still seriously funky. Ohno channels a less stringently lyrical version of Miles over the churning keyboard and organ vamps. Its dazzling technicolor tones bring to mind the pop art contortions of Japanese designer Tadanori Yokoo, who also did the original cover for Agharta.

Category Shunzo Ohno

11 Responses to Agharta (Slight Return)

  1. I don’t know if “more adventurous” is really accurate, since it’s more-or-less a copy of what had been happening in America a few years before. Meanwhile, there were real technical innovations coming out of the American fusion of the time, but they tended to result in kitschy music, for whatever reason. Anyway, it doesn’t strike me as strange that they’d be a bit behind the times, for better or worse, on the other side of the planet.

    By the way, one of my favorite crazy ’70s fusion albums is Shabazz by Billy Cobham, recorded live in July, 1974. It’s a nice bridge between the old and new fusion. Here’s a video of the Shabazz band, although it’s not quite as out as some of the stuff on the record: http://youtube.com/watch?v=7hafJwan75Q

    Of course, Gil Evans is one person who never “received the memo.”

  2. …on second thought, that video’s maybe not the best advertisement for the album, which is much more interesting, for the most part.

  3. Roy Haynes blows my mind here…I am really enjoying this one, many thanks.
    The problem is how does one measure adventurous, or maybe even more importantly why? Wouldn’t Hancock and Weather Report releases would be counted as adventurous..or if we jump the invisible jazz boundary, Zappa? Ornette was playing with what would become Prime Time by 1975… Is this behind the times? Only if we assume that the jazz fusion moves in a neat progression from say “Bitches Brew” to “Mr. Magic” (or worse new age) and then dies (or turns into smooth jazz). Of course, it doesn’t. I wouldn’t really expect Japan to be behind the times either since they have been into jazz since the 1920s, like, well, most of the United States. Of course, it has a different history there, but plenty of “new” jazz has come from Japan.

    And, I am going to have to check out Shabazz because that clip is real nice…trombone solo is exceptionally nice..not nice in a fusion way, just nice.

  4. Hmm, I’d been thinking that the most interesting thing about that was the drumming, but I didn’t notice who it was.

  5. It’s interesting–it sounds far more original and out that most American fusion, but at the same time sounds incredibly similar to Agharta-era Miles. So is it really innovative, or does it just sound like it? Does taking a more original source of inspiration make something more original than something new but more “commercial”? Who knows… still better than Grover Washington Jr though.

  6. Thanks for sharing this track. I wish Lucas was given more to do on this, he is a superb and tasteful ensemble player. He can also solo quite well. Agreed, Haynes make the track.

    If this is your first exposure to this type of music, better to digest all of ‘electric Miles’, and Herbie’s ‘Thrust’ and ‘Sextant’ and the longer tracks from ‘Mwandishi’ first. Even Donald Byrd ‘Electric Byrd’.

  7. Yeah thanks for putting this up. I’ve been casually looking for Shunzo Ohno in record crates for years. I have him on some Gil Evans records but he doesn’t solo on those. I have him on an almost smooth jazz Norman Connors record but the music isn’t that happening. So it’s great to hear this – finally. It’s a killin’ track. Anyone know what Ohno is up to these days? Are there any recent recordings worth checking out?

    Thanks again,

    Bart

  8. Roy Haynes, love it.

  9. I take it issue with the comments that this is better than Grover Washington jR.
    If you really listen to Grover’s records he was indeed adventurous in his own way and the music in most cases was excellent fusion. Its his imitators who eventually descended to Smooth Jazz that you shpuld be critical of. I finally got that bugbear of my back. As for this, it is fine music but doesn’t really hold up to the original miles of course. I guess it probably goes for millions on Ebay. PS: thanks for posting this and everything else over the last few months. Much appreaciated

  10. I once heard Grover on the radio and he played, live on the air, a solo rendition, with improv, of an obscure Ellington tune that he had previously only heard, but never played, before. A pretty ballsy move, I thought, and very well-played.

    On the other hand, when I saw him in a festival at the Hollywood Bowl, I could understand why an audience member up near the stage shouted out “Kenny G.!”: the setting was pretty cheesy. What I’ve heard of his old CTI stuff is nice, though.

    BTW, getting back to that Cobham album I mentioned before (sorry, but it’s been at the back of my mind since that Hancock post inspired me to pull it out), I noticed that the studio album “Total Eclipse” has the same lineup. I wonder if anybody’s familiar with it. The little Amazon clips seem less free and spacey than the live album, but who knows.

  11. not so much the trumpet playing, but the overall feel really reminds me of ‘Realisation’-era Eddie Henderson. I liked it a lot!