- A uniquely Japanese mix of techno and jazz fusion.
- Hoshina Anniversary's new album for ESP Institute, Jomon, is one of the most musically ambitious dance music records you'll ever hear. At 14 tracks and almost 80 minutes, it could most accurately be described as a progressive house opus. But Yoshinobu Hoshina is more Miles Davis than Robert Miles, looking back to the jazz legend's groundbreaking fusion period, to Steely Dan, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea, inserting the ideas of jazz fusion and prog into leftfield dance production.
If it's not clear by this point, Hoshina doesn't bring the typical grab bag of influences to dance music production. "I think the first electronic track I've ever heard was The Police's 'Synchronicity,'" he recently told Torture The Artist. "Around ten years ago I decided to have a career in the genre because I found that it suited me personally and I could do it on my own." His unique sound is equally informed by what he doesn't like.
In interviews, Hoshina grouses about feeling like an outsider in Tokyo's dance music scene. He also uses virtual Japanese instruments for the Hoshina Anniversary project, at least in part as a reaction to the hackneyed attempts at an orientalist techno sound by western artists. "There is so many boring & too easy music with techno + Japanese instruments… I hate them lol," he told CLOT Magazine. "So I want to show the possibility of making tracks with traditional Japanese instruments... and I hope it will show you a new perspective to Japanese music."
So does Hoshina, an artist who is trying to integrate the dense musical theories of records like Miles Davis's Nefertiti and carve out a novel Japanese sound, succeed? Mostly, and it's down to the insane musicianship on display. Hoshina creates music entirely in the box, yet many would assume he's working with a studio's worth of rare synths and expensive outboard gear. (Nerds, watch Hoshina's guide to making his "Hakkenden I" track for a window into how he does it.) For Jomon, he pulls out all the stops.
When it works, Hoshina's sound is breathtaking. "Sadacho No Netori" begins with heavy house drums and some distant Japanese percussion before a head-spinning variety of organ, acid and synth runs begin. "Tanabara Monogatari" starts with what sounds like early Soft Machine trying their hand at downtempo. Then, after a jazzy deep house piano breakdown, the track explodes into color, with euphoric arpeggios, chorale synths and funky, slap-style bass. No one, besides Thundercat, is making tunes like this in the modern era.
But sometimes, it's too much. Taken together, some of these tracks—like the arpeggio workouts "Taira" and "Nakasora"—lead me to believe Hoshina made a bet with someone on how many notes he could squeeze into a single album. Tellingly, some of Jomon's key moments find Hoshina in a silent way. "Kegon" is an abrasive drone and shakuhachi track that nods to the minimalist side of Japanese jazz improv and psychedelic rock. On the title track, fx and mallet percussion swirl around just three weighty chords. It's as artful and memorable as anything else on the record. The closer, "Kizamu," is beatless, minimal and funerary, one of a few tracks in his catalogue that nods towards another one of Hoshina's desert island discs, Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II.
While listening to Jomon, I was thinking about modern Asian music for a recent podcast and forthcoming playlist. I also stumbled across an article that attempts to deduce a modern Asian sound. If asked to identify an artist that's making music that's both innovative and distinctly Japanese, I'd reach for Jomon in a heartbeat.
03. Sadacho No Netori
04. Shin Sekai
08. Tanabata Monogatari
13. Hane No Uta