Thursday, June 16, 2016

OSAMU KITAJIMA - BENZAITEN



Here is a rather fantastic LP from 1976 which I have only just become aware of. For collector-dorks of Japanese obscurities, it is a flamingly obvious classic. For dilettantes such as moi, it is a discovery one makes later in life. It is the debut LP by Osamu Kitajima, a Japanese musician, songwriter and producer who has spent the bulk of his life residing in Los Angeles and busied himself mostly with far less interesting fusionoid releases the past 40 years (although it is worth digging through for some moments of gold - I really am not familiar enough to make blanket judgments). However, this one from 1976, Benzaiten, is an experimental psychedelic gem, one strange enough to earn his name in the Weirdo Hall Of Fame List (AKA the Nurse With Wound List).

Firstly, there's this track directly below for your pleasure:



That was a track from Justin Heathcliff, off his self-titled debut LP on the Atlantic label in 1971. The connection? Justin Heathcliff is Osamu Kitajima. In '71, Kitajima lived in the UK for a year and, enamoured with the likes of Syd Barrett and the psychedelic works of pre-fame Marc Bolan, he took the nom de plume of Justin Heathcliff (a name which to me sounds more like a moors murderer than an acid-folkie) and somehow managed to score himself an album deal with the Japanese arm of Atlantic and recorded an album in a thoroughly British vein of psychedelic folk. You'll have to skip solid meals for a month to actually pay for a copy of this album, but you can hear the whole thing via Youtube, and it's well worth the effort. Certainly an unusual recording, given the circumstances.

But for me, Benzaiten, which has actually been reissued recently by the Victory label (as for whether this label has a royalties dept., that remains to be seen), is where the gold's at. It somehow scored itself both a Canadian and US release at the time (via Island/Antilles), and I'm guessing it didn't trouble the charts too much, because its exotic mix of traditional Japanese instrumentation and meditative Western psychedelia doesn't really render it 'the sound of '76'. In fact, given its proximity to the works of '80s/'90s PSF outfit, Ghost, I'd say it's more like the 'sounds of a Forced Exposure catalogue circa 1993'. I have spent a number of evenings staring at a wall playing this LP on repeat, and I can attest that it is a recording you should become familiar with.


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