Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. Following on from the previous instalment, we’re spinning Japanese jazz once again for the latest in a series of reissues from the excellent BBE Records.
The rabbit-hole of scarce, collectable jazz is one that can go as deep as you want it to; indeed, there’s so much of it out there that an individual could feasibly spend years digging into the produce of just one country. Japan has always been a land of allure for record collectors, not just for their famously high-quality pressings, but also for the music its people have produced. Hastings based BBE Records began a series of reissues focusing upon rare Japanese jazz earlier this year with their excellent reissue of Tohru Aizawa Quartet’s ‘Tachibana Vol. 1’, and is continuing the campaign with a second instalment: Takeo Moriyama’s 1983 album ‘East Plants’. Seeing reissue for the first ever time, it’s an album that was afforded a one-time Japanese pressing only, and has never seen release outside of Nippon up until now. Upon listening to the album, it’s difficult to see why – a beautifully measured, mature record, ‘East Plants’ is as nuanced as it is well performed and voiced. Moriyama is a drummer, and it’s not hard to tell that from the album. There’s a strong rhythmic element to most of the proceedings, be it through the top notch tabla work of the opening title track, or the complex, fluid rhythms of “かげろう (Kagelou)“. Melody is certainly not neglected for a moment however, as the simultaneously melancholic and surging harmony of “遠く (Tooku)” makes very clear indeed. Make no mistake about it, ‘East Plants’ is a wonderful example of exploratory, post-bop avant-jazz – and one which is more than ripe for rediscovery. It’s an album which sounds as fresh today as it surely would have 35 years ago, and it’s great to see it available once again.
Germany’s Pallas are rightfully regarded as one of the best pressing plants in the world, and they’re often the ones called upon when an audiophile-grade reissue is being cooked up. This newly released reissue of Takeo Moriyama’s scarce and sought-after ‘East Plants’ is thankfully no different, and the dividends of using a high-grade pressing plant are made clear the moment the stylus hits the groove. This is an extremely clean, well-pressed release by anyone’s standards; the noise floor is minimal to the point of non-existent – which is important in any case, but especially so on an album as dynamic and nuanced as this. Playback yields barely a single stray crackle across the whole album, which here has been spread over two LPs instead of the original pressing’s one. While this does result in LP sides shorter than 10 minutes each, the upshot is absolutely flawless fidelity and rich, uncompromised sonics throughout. Clearly a product of quality engineering to begin with, ‘East Plants’ really shines on this new BBE reissue – with a focused, taut low end of fluid bass and a clear, rich representation of the treble frequencies. Clearly a bandleader with an ear for a good build-up, Moriyama guides the listener through a series of compositions both complex and natural, and the album is just as often subdued and sensuous as it is rip-roaringly flighty. Considering the lack of volume to mask any potential imperfections, it’s testament to the quality of the pressing that the most hushed sections of the album still play with as-near-as-dammit flawless sound. Likewise, it speaks volumes for the quality of the mastering on this reissue that the densest, mostly thickly layered portions of the music manage to remain clear and focused without ever diminishing the heady energy of the album. Each instrument has its own space and, despite some undeniably vigorous playing from the rhythm section, the overall soundscape never becomes muddied. This is a shining example of how to reissue a rare, sought-after album and to get it right. The price point is fair considering the quality on offer and the sound speaks for itself.
The pressing may tick all the right boxes, then, but every collector knows that the physical presentation of a rarity such as this plays an important part as well. Fortunately BBE once again strike the right note, as this is a beautifully packaged reissue. The Obi strip has been an object of collector worship for decades, and there’s been a marked upsurge in modern releases boasting one in the past few years. Rarely has the inclusion of one on a non-Japanese-market modern release made as much sense as here, however, and the bright red slip of paper attached to the sleeve makes for a welcome addition to the overall presentation. The sleeve itself is a sturdy gatefold with a pleasingly chunky spine and great overall build quality. Spine text is chunky, colourful and bold – ensuring that the album will never be tricky to locate on a busy shelf – and print quality is excellent, with the original album art faithfully reproduced. Brand new liner notes adorn the inner gatefold, as well as shots of Moriyama throughout his career. The notes are both informative and engaging, and contextualize the album well. The whole package is rounded off with a large, full colour insert giving player credits and recording information, as well as a little more thematically appropriate artwork. This is presentation that really smacks of quality, and it’s both refreshing and welcome to find a label which puts as much thought into the tangibility of its releases as it does the music itself.
This newly released BBE Records reissue of Takeo Moriyama’s ‘East Plants’ does everything right: not only does it put a fantastic, soulful jazz rarity back into print for the first time since its original release, but it does so in real style. Those who love quality Japanese jazz should seek this out immediately, as it’s a fantastic rerelease of a fantastic album.