Madrid finest label GLOSSY MISTAKES reissued with remastered audio Genji Sawai’s classic LP “Sowaka”, featuring Midori Takada and Bill Laswell.
Originally recorded in 1984, Japanese saxophonist and producer Genji Sawai’s Sowaka showcases an innovative sound that travels across the borders of genre - mixing dub, world, jazz, electro, hip-hop, and avant-garde composition along the way. At the time, Genji’s prescient visions were a perfect match for some of the most experimental artists of the era, resulting in an extremely sought-after and singular album from the Japanese golden age.
Before he entered the studio with Bill Laswell, Michael Beinhorn, and Midori Takada in the mid-eighties, Genji was deeply embedded in the experimental J-Jazz scene. What they came up with together was unlike anything he’d been involved in before. Rather than working from written music, they built the songs on Sowaka like chefs. Genji might supply the ingredients, perhaps the tonal choices – sax, FM synths, drum machines, and Bill would task himself with the “cooking,” i.e. creating the overall image of each song. For Genji, using imagery to have a musical conversation was a fresh, unfiltered experience.
Unlike the other players who contributed to Sowaka, musicians of impressive, rarefied technique like Midori Takada, Shuichi “Ponta” Murakami, and Kazuhiko Shibayama, notation or sheet music wasn’t a part of Genji’s working vocabulary with Bill.
Instead, they used drawings to pull songs from the ether. Once they had an image, the music would follow.
Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Sopranino Saxophone, Synthesizer [Yamaha DX-7], Voice – Genji Sawai
Arranged By – Bill Laswell, Genji Sawai
Bass, Turntables, Synthesizer [Yamaha DX-7] – Bill Laswell
Drums – Yutaka Uehara
Gayageum [Kayaguem] – Sang Won Park
Guitar – Kazuhiko Shibayama, Kazuhiko Tsumura
Percussion – Midori Takada, Shuichi Murakami, Kiyohiko Semba
Producer – Genji Sawai, Material
Synthesizer [Prophet 5], Synthesizer [Yamaha DX-7], Drum Programming [DMX] – Michael Beinhorn
Synthesizer [Yamaha DX-7], Technician [Processing] – Rob Stevens
Voice – Atsuko Yuma
In five cracking days, the album was put on tape and was then jetted off to NYC for Bill to put its final touches.
What’s fascinating about Sowaka is just how it perfectly captures a certain atmosphere, one somewhat alien to overground Japanese music at the time. Forget about a starry-eyed, futuristic technopolis. The Japan heard in songs like “1969 (The Real)” can be found in its iconic back alleys and constantly changing cityscape. It would use hip-hop, jazz, folk, and world music, to drop its sonic graffiti. That pull of “tradition” trying to co-exist with increasingly hypermodern ideas is palpably heard in music defined by its mix of organic and synthetic instruments paired with hard-nosed melodies. Genji’s Japan, as experienced in Sowaka, pulls no punches. It wants you right in the middle of that public maelstrom. It wants you to be there sonically.
Behind the mysterious chopped-and-screwed-with jazz of songs like “Hikobae” or the no-wave, nu-wave-fried jazz of the title track, a new kind of fusion was being presented here. Moving beyond world music, Genji sought after a territory then yet to be uncovered that was even more unplaceable. Somewhere between the mind, body, and spirit, sitting closer to one’s neck and booty, this music urges you to simply move elsewhere, further, until you’re closer to where Genji’s music would land. In the neon-lit Interzone between history and his story, there’s still room to rewrite our story by absorbing Sowaka - a spectacular album that remains completely and forever out of time.