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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Swing Low - "Swing Low" CD, Album, Japan, 1996 (Mercury)


"Swing Low" is an album by Haruomi Hosono (or known as Harry here) and singer Miharu Koshi. Hosono is a combination of Brian Eno, Brian Wilson, Les Paul, Ry Cooder (in his knowledge of music history),  and a touch of Van Dyke Parks.  He's electronic and ambient and then on another album, he's a music historian focusing on how Western music has affected the Japanese landscape.  Smart, elegant, and on top of that,  his grandfather was on the Titanic and survived that ordeal.   

Swing Low focuses on the odd mixture of classic American songwriting with touches of Electronica here and there.  Real instruments as well as computer technology.   In Japan, he's a huge influence and figure in contemporary music.  In the West, not that much and that is truly a shame.  For the fan of Hosono outside of Japan, it's a hard road to locate his recordings, unless you go to Japan.  One can usually find his solo albums in the YMO (Yellow Magic Orchestra) section of a large record store.  It's worth the adventure because the listening experience is so great. 

Hosono works in themes or concepts.   Rarely is there a solo album by him that is not attached to a bigger idea or comment on a certain aspect of music.  He's hard to define in the Western sense, and to recommend a specific album is not difficult, but you have to keep in mind that is records change from one to another in an entirely different manner.  Swing Low plays with the 1950s image of American lounge music/Space Age with traces going back to Europe. One becomes a world traveler through Hosono's recordings and music. 

I think what makes Hosono so amazing is that since he's a Tokyo personality, so he looks at the world as an "other" and doesn't hesitate to borrow cultures here and there.  He's truly a world musician.  His partner-in-crime, Ryuichi Sakamoto, follows similar roots as Hosono, but the big difference to me is that Sakamoto has lived in New York City for numerous years,  and although hot American, I think he understands the American landscape through his personal experiences.  Hosono I feel gets his information through books and recordings.  And for sure, as a traveler, but Hosono is never far away from the aesthetics of Tokyo life and music.  "Swing Low" is a take on the 1950s, with its kitsch aesthetic, but also the beauty of exploring another universe, which is a weird hybrid of American, European, and Japanese pop culture.  "Swing Low" is a great album. Difficult to find, but as I mentioned above, worth the adventure.  Also, you can hear the album here on YouTube. https://youtu.be/06HcFuiHWZ4