Hikashu - Bankan (2013)
1. Me To Me No Net [Eyes And The Net] 3'20"
2. Nanoka Douka [Is That It, Or Not] 4'08"
3. Nabokofu No Chou [Nabokov's Butterflies] 9'55"
4. Niwatori Tonda [Chickens Fly] 1'58"
5. Inori No Color [The Color Of Prayer] 3'02"
6. Nyuki Nyoki Haetekita [Sprouting Up] 9'14"
7. Ningen Ni Kaeritai [Rehumanize] 4'56"
8. Moshi Moshi Ga [If And If] 3'30"
9. Mijime Na Puppet [A Miserable Puppet] 3'38"
10. Mienai Kankei (Juden Shiteru) [Invisible Relationship (It's Charging)] 6'19
11. Sonotsumori [With That Intention] 3'50"
words - Makigami
music - Makigami (5), Mita (4, 9, 11), Sakaide (1, 8), Shimizu (2), Sato (6), Hikashu (3, 7, 10)
Produced by Makigami Koichi
Recorded and Mixed by Marc Urselli
Recorded on May 15 and 16, 2013 at EastSide Sound NYC
Mastered by Ono Seigen at Saidera Mastering, Tokyo
Released on December 12, 2013.
Makigami Koichi - vocals, theremin, cornet, shakuhachi, mouth harp
Mita Freeman - guitar, chorus
Sakaide Masami - bass, chorus
Shimizu Kazuto - piano, synthesizer, bass clarinet, marimba
Sato Masaharu - drums, chorus
The Beauty of Eclecticism
Bankan, Hikashu's 21st album, is a collection of songs in various styles, and it clearly shows their eclecticism. Basically it's a rock record but incorporates the elements of jazz, pop, and collective improvisation as well. It has even mood kayo - mood kayo is a sub-genre of kayokyoku, which is a genre of Japanese pop which was dominant in 1950s-1970s Japanese popular music (see wikipedia), and this is the first time for them to include mood kayo (or kayokyoku) in their original album.
In recent interview, Makigami Koichi said that Bankan (pronounced Ban-Kan) is a sort of sequel to their last album, Uragoe. Certainly, there's many similarities between them. Most of all, the two albums were recorded, mixed, and mastered under the same staff and environment - the album was recorded and mixed by Marc Urselli at EastSide Sound NYC, and mastered by Ono Seigen at Saidera Mastering Tokyo. That's because the band was quite satisfied with the process making Uragoe and simply decided to do it again.
But there are some important differences. First, Bankan is basically consisted of pre-composed songs while Uragoe was a work of impromptu. Second, they did a 4-cities tour in Canada before the session, and that tour was so encouraging and uplifting.
Uragoe was basically made "on the spot." When they came to NYC in 2011, they had only vague, sketchy ideas. They just thought that they were going to make an album at that time. Then they had an instant writing session for a few days at their hotel room, and recorded Uragoe, basically at live settings. Contrarily, for Bankan, they did pre-production in Tokyo, and prepared the material beforehand. (Of course, there's exception. For example, Mita Freeman wrote "Niwatori Tonda" [Chickens Fly] on the road - in Jonquière.)
And they had finished a short but very important tour in Canada, immediately before the recording session. The audience in Canada was quite receptive and enthusiastic for the band's performance. That experience was quite an inspiration for the band. Also they eagerly saw other acts and had a great time. So they reached NYC, the band was like an well-oiled machine, and their condition was top-notch. That affected the NYC session much in a good way.
The album opens with "Me To Me No Net" [Eye And The Net], an appropriately driving tune. This track is apparently overdubbed - thick layers of horn section, albeit it's all the same instrument - bass clarinet. All was done by Shimizu Kazuto.
On "Nanoka Douka" [Is That It, Or Not], Makigami used a unique, vocal phrasing which sounded like kabuki or gagaku - both are Japanese traditional theatre.
"Nabokov No Chou" [Nabokov's Butterflies] was collective improvisation. Needless to say, the title was about the famous novelist from Russia. In 2012, Hikashu visited the Navokov Museum in Sankt Petersburg on the way of the band's Russia-Lithuania tour, and that experience was unforgettable for the members. They saw a collection of Butterflies - that was a hobby of Nabokov - and the title was inspired by that. (and the cover art, too)
"Niwatori Tonda" [Chickens Fly] was a short and strange song. At introduction, Makigami mimicked chicken with an accompaniment of percussion, then the music starts. The composition is a very stylish, sort of 60s French pop with nice melody, and Makigami adopted a lyrics about Chicken's life for that. This number clearly shows their sense of humor.
"Inori No Color" [The Color Of Prayer] reminds of their early style. For example, this song would suit for their first two albums, both were released in 1980. That's quite natural because this song was written around that time. It was an instrumental number, and unfortunately not recorded. Then Makigami excavated it and newly wrote a lyrics for this album.
"Nyoki Nyoki Haetekita" [Sprouting Up] was composed by Sato Masaharu, the band's drummer, so it's natural being so rhythmical. Its theme is short - a minute and half - and there's an extended jam between them.
As already mentioned, the theme itself was lay great emphasis on rhythm. Having listened for the first time, Makigami got an image "something sprouting up from the soil" so he wrote it down. And the over-five-minutes interlude jam is fierce and quite exciting - only Hikashu could do this kind of thing.
"Ningen Ni Kaeritai" [Rehumanize] is a collective improvisation. Mostly Makigami's voice performance is non-verbal. Only at 3:44 he starts reciting "back to be human" shortly after that he returned to be non-verbal and it ends.
Things really become unusual on "Moshi Moshi Ga" [If And If]. Partly, the composition is a repetition of start-and-stop, and Makigami on this one gets quite theatrical (remember he started his career as a stage actor for fringe theater). This is a performance full of showmanship. Maybe this kind of showiness alienates some, but it's apparently he did it on purpose, and some say playing to the gallery is an indispensable part of Kabuki, for instance.
As forementioned, "Mijime Na Puppet" [A Miserable Puppet] is a mood kayo song - the band did it quite straight. And actually it's a very nice song. Being a balladeer on this one, Makigami proved himself as a quite versatile singer.
"Mienai Kankei (Juden Shiteru)" [Invisible Relationship (It's Charging)] is collective improvisation. It starts shakuhachi, Japanse bamboo flute, played by Makigami and gradually it incorporated voice. Once he said he use shakuhachi as voice-resonater, and this intro is an perfect example.
"Sonotsumori" [With That Intention] is calm and collected - suitable for a closing number. And it has a dramatic interlude of guitar and organ - a fine moment of classic rock.
Overall, "Bankan" is a great album. It's different from Uragoe, their last album, but the band is always changing, so it's quite natural. Their faithful fan understand that nature of the band, and even enjoy themselves to know how the band is changing. Anyway, without a doubt, it's a worthly effort, so rush out buy it.
Available worldwide via HMV Japan
A new album is coming explains the meaning of the word "Bankan"
Shakuhachi about Makigami and his shakuhachi