The best thing about living in Japan is finding 1970s covers albums of sci-fi films.
Okay, maybe it’s not the best thing, but it’s definitely in the top 10.
Star Wars Theme
Toru Hatano (aka Toya Hatano) is somewhat of a minor player in the progressive/jazz/electronic scenes of 1970s Japan. In the early 70s he was a member of the psych-rock band Brush!?, who only released one record as far as I can find. In 1977 he released his solo debut, a soundtrack called Love For You followed a year later by a collection of movie themes performed on synthesizer entitled Space Adventure. Since then, he’s worked behind-the-scenes and runs a company that sells insanely high-end audio cables.
As synth cover collections go, Space Adventure is an odd one, and features not only 70s soundtrack standards like Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but also selections from lesser known genre material at the time including Logan’s Run, Capricorn One, Solaris, and even Flesh Gordon (not Flash, Flesh).
It’s not bad, although as someone who has listened to probably over a dozen synth cover albums in his day, there’s not much to make it stand out aside from its slightly oddball song selection. The cover is pretty rad though.
Damn, it looks like they’re constructing the ELO spaceship.
Theme From Star Wars
One thing that I was surprised to learn about the 1970s music scene in Japan is how intermixed the jazz, funk and electronic music scenes were. Look into the discography of nearly any major guitarist or keyboardist from the era, and you’ll find that he or she probably got their feet wet in all three genres, if not more. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s first release as a collaborative free association jazz album, and both of YMO’s most prominent guitarists, Kenji Omura and Kazumi Watanabe, were accomplished jazz musicians before, during and after their work with the legendary synthpop group.
The same goes for Jun Fukamachi, digging through his back catalog I’ve found everything from J-pop, funk, folk, jazz, experimental avant-garde, synth-pop and pure electronic music. He even worked on a few of those “Digital Trip” anime soundtracks that I wrote about a couple weeks ago. His main focuses seemed to be jazz and funk though, using synthesizers in way that could be compared to the 70s output of Stevie Wonder, much more organically and with other instruments than his purely electronic counterparts.
And if you know anything about live jazz, with its heavy use of improvisation and free-association jamming, is why this live take on the Star Wars theme lasts over seven minutes. It goes places, man.
I’m crediting this to Jun Fukamachi because it’s listed under his discography at Discogs and I found it in among his solo records at the record store, but it’s really a collaborative effort. I think the band itself is called Space Fantasy. In addition to Jun, the group is also made up of Hideki Matsutake (aka Logic System) and the previously mentioned Kenji Omura. Joining them are Hiroki Inui, Shuichi Murakami and Shigeru Okazawa, all of whom have worked on countless albums in Japan as session players. So if you know anything about the jazz scene of Japan in the 70s and 80s, then this is kind of an all-star supergroup jam session.
To be honest, the album as a whole diverges into free-improvisation a bit too much for my liking, but their take on the Star Wars theme the only improvisational jazz/funk version of it I’ve ever heard, so they get points for originality if nothing else.