Thursday, September 20, 2012

September 23: Flower Travellin' Band, "Satori, Part "

While there are many injustices that one can find across the history of recorded music, one of the most tragic is the way in which the music of the late 1960's and early 1970's is completely ignored if it was not created in either England or the United States.  That is to say, in the minds of most, there was nothing of substance being created musically elsewhere on the planet during that time period, when the reality remains that some of the most exciting and innovative sounds of that era can be found in these exact places that are ignored.  Whether it was the early rumblings of the punk sound in Australia or the AfroBeat movement of Fela Kuti and others, when one opens their mind to the truth of the era, some of the finest music can be found.  Yet even with this exploration, one of the most mind-blowing bands of that time period still gets overlooked, as Japan's Flower Travellin' Band stand as one of the most tragically forgotten groups in all of music history.  During the early years of the 1970's, the band was delving deep into blues rock, heavy metal, and psychedelic rock in ways unlike any other band in history.  Due to their tone and musical arrangements, as well as the sheer force in their sound, no other band comes even remotely close to the majesty of their flawless 1971 release, Satori, as it is the group's first record of completely original compositions.  Separated into five different movements, each with their own musically-stunning moments, one can quickly understand why Flower Travellin' Band are held in such high regard by those "in the know" when you hear "Satori, Part IV."

Within this movement, every side of Flower Travellin' Band can be heard, as the song begins with a progression that echoes of the 1950's surf-rock, before giving way to a crunch and groove that rings of a somehow heavier version of Black Sabbath.  In fact, perhaps the only music even remotely close to the sound found at the opening of "Satori, Part IV" is segments of the self-titled Third World War album.  The guitar of Hideki Ishima is wonderfully distinctive, as he is able to bring the grit and growl of heavy metal, yet there is unquestionably a tinge of the psychedelic in his tone that is perhaps best stated as a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Tony Iommi.  Whether he is ripping off a dazzling solo or falling into a deep, almost trance-like rhythm, it is his playing that serves as the core to the overall impact of "Satori, Part IV."  Along with his performance, bassist Jun Kozuki brings a progression that gives a looming, darker feel to the song, and this separates it from the other parts on the Satori album.  He too finds ways to balance the aggression with melody, and the blues-base to their music is perhaps most clear in this aspect of the song.  Yet it is also the often stutter-stepping of drummer Joji Wada that gives the track a sound and mood that is unforgettable, as you can hear everything from jazz to punk in the way he approaches the song.  In fact, it is his performance that gives the entire band the ability to shift tempos on a single note, giving "Satori, Part IV" a feel and flow that has never been equaled.

Though one can easily make the case that the entire Satori album concentrates on the instrumental aspects, it is the vocals from Joe Yamanaka that give the forth section a more distinctive sound and drive than the other tracks.  Yet at the same time, the moment he begins singing, the comparison to early Black Sabbath is yet again brought to mind, as one cannot deny the similarity in tone to that of Ozzy Osborne.  However, there is no question that he has his own take, and that while their voices may sound similar, it is in no way a case of one "copying" the other.  In fact, one can argue that it is the spirit and attitude that Yamanaka brings which makes his sound so distinctive, and at the same time, there is an unsettling urgency within his voice that furthers the overall sense of darkness and nervousness that persists throughout the entire track.  Along with his vocal work, it is Yamanaka that adds the perfectly placed and played harmonica piece at the center of "Satori, Part IV," and this is where the links to the blue-rock movement happening across the world at that time can be most clearly heard.  Whether one wishes to draw a comparison to Aerosmith or Led Zeppelin, the likeness is clear, and yet again, Flower Travellin' Band stands on their own, as there is a grit and power in their sound that cannot be found elsewhere.  As Yamanaka switches from playing to singing, you can almost hear the entire band dig in deeper on the song, allowing the overall energy and emotion of their playing to lead them in an almost jazz-like structure.  In the end, there is simply no question that "Satori, Part IV" is as good a work of hard rock or even progressive metal that has ever been recorded.

As if the overall overlooking of the band was not bad enough, the entire Satori album went relatively unknown for the better part of three decades, until it was remastered and re-released in 2003.  Yet from almost the instant that this album became available in this form, it made massive waves all across the progressive and heavy metal scenes.  The fact that the music is so imposing and powerful, pulling from such a wide range of influences, and yet in many ways having been completely detached from what was happening elsewhere at the time made the album all the more impressive.  At the same time, there is no denying that the sheer volume and strength with which Flower Travellin' Band play all across Satori makes it quite simple for them to easily be on par with any band under the "metal" or "progressive" genre banner to this day.  But it is this reality, that the band pulls from such a wide range of influences, that makes the music so unique and intriguing, as whether it is the almost Eastern sounds in the lighter moments, or the all out rock assault, one can argue that Flower Travellin' Band were years beyond and of their musical peers.  The way that the guitars fly in blaring tone all across the album never loses its impact, and the rest of the band falls in line behind, creating one of the most imposing walls of sound to ever be captured on tape.  In many ways, Flower Travellin' Band are the ultimate example of how the most impressive music could be lost simply due to the lack in ability to share the sound; showing how important current technology is within the music world.  Yet in the end, from end to end, there are few recordings from any point in history that can even remotely compare to the sheer musical genius of Flower Travellin' Band's 1971 track, "Satori, Part IV."

No comments: