In America, "sophistication" is a bad word, somehow effeminate and therefore suspect. But for Japan's Pizzicato Five, this quality -- a stylish combination of skill, knowledge, and innovation -- is something to aspire to.
The Sound of Music by Pizzicato Five, a Matador compilation of previously released Japanese tracks, a new English version of 1994's "Happy Sad," and a few remixes, oozes sophistication. Pizzicato Five's influences -- Burt Bacharach, Esquivel, Ennio Morricone, and Gamble & Huff, to name a few -- are international, instantly recognizable, and known for imaginatively arranging music. While insisting that music is for pleasure, Pizzicato Five (currently Maki Nomiya and Yasuharu Konishi) emulates deadly serious composers, resulting in some of the best-crafted pop music you will hear this year.
Individually, many of the tracks here are brilliant. Highlights include "Good!" (taken from a new Japanese album, Romantique 96), in which Nomiya hilariously recites dumb American conversational phrases over a hyperactive backbeat punctuated with space-age synth pyrotechnics. Then there's the Latinesque, percussion-heavy "Number Five" and Saint Etienne's trippy, radical remix of "Peace Music," which adds a sinister element to its original ambience.
But the collection lacks the focus found on Japanese Pizzicato Five albums. The Sound of Music feels niche-marketed, directed at nightclubbers. Several cuts, such as "The Night Is Still Young," lean heavily toward disco yet feel unrelated, giving this album a bland overall tone lacking in creative insight. Still, even clichd disco numbers like "CDJ" exhibit a complex musicality.
On the surface, Pizzicato Five, like so many other Japanese groups who pay tribute to their Western pop heroes and heroines, seems driven by nostalgia. Yet the sound of this music is actually futuristic, and the band's vision of a Barbarella world where optimism rules and dreams have no limits is encoded into its music so powerfully that it transcends the language barrier. While exhaling a refreshing whiff of a brighter tomorrow, The Sound of Music by Pizzicato Five reaches for the stratosphere and takes you right along with it.
-- Jeffery Kennedy
The Master Musicians of Jajouka
Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka
William S. Burroughs once described the music of the Master Musicians of Jajouka as "the primordial sounds of a 4,000-year-old rock 'n' roll band." He wasn't too far off the mark. Originating from the mountain village of Jajouka in Morocco, these sounds cannot be easily pigeonholed; in the simplest Western terminology, they're best described as pure, organic trance of the highest magnitude.
The Pipes of Pan at Jajouka has been out of print for more than 24 years. Originally released on Rolling Stones Records in 1971, the album was the combined effort of original Stones guitarist Brian Jones and writer Brian Gysin, who made a foray into the mystical realm of Morocco back in 1967. So impressed were they by the Master Musicians that they returned to the country in '68 and made some of the first field recordings of this hypnotic sonic phenomenon.
This disc captures the music of a weeklong festival celebrating the paganistic Rites of Pan. Jones and Gysin actually shortened the original versions, as some of the "songs" lasted for hours on end as the musicians sought a heightened state of religious fervor. Traditionally, these men were seen as conjurers, their music a form of mystical power. To this end, the pipes emit high-pitched atonal blurts in the form of solid, unwavering notes that seem eternal, thanks to a circular breathing technique that allows the musicians to blow for extended periods of time. Adding to the mesmerizing ambience, spare drums offer deep, earth-toned grooves, while chants are recited en masse over the dreamlike soundscape.
Pipes captures the vastness of Jajouka sounds, ranging from the apocalyptic flurry of wailing horns on "55" to the soothing, impish Pan flute flutterings of "Your Eyes Are Like a Cup of Tea." While ambient and techno have risen up from the electronic void to capture the silicon soul of the postindustrial age, these genres are, in actuality, nothing more than a cyberplacebo compared to this rare excursion into real-world trance.
The Master Musicians of Jajouka play Thurs, Nov. 2, at Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus; call (510) 642-9988.
-- spence d.