The Finest Jazz Record You (and I) Have Never Heard... Until Now
The Tohru Aizawa Quartet recorded only one record in 1969. It's being re-released this year, and it's a true treasure in every sense of the word: A record considered by experts to be one of the finest Jazz albums ever made, and in 2018, you can't find it anywhere (until now!)
I’m in the throws of a new feeling. New for me, anyway.
I’m making myself wait for something.
There’s an album that is being re-released on July 29, 2018 that I am legitimately shaking with excitement to listen to when I finally get my copy, which will likely be mid-August. It’s a re-release of a Japanese Jazz record from 1969 that is considered a holy grail to collectors, and is practically unheard by anyone else. Not just unheard of; literally unheard. No copies exist in digital music services. No bootlegs are floating around willy-nilly (at least not in America).
This album is a true gem in this, the year 2018 in our (admittedly derailed) timeline. It’s Tachibana by the Tohru Aizawa Quartet.
The Tohru Aizawa Quartet is, by every definition, a top-tier Jazz unit. This band is tight. They are gifted. They play modal and temporal jazz at a level equal to Chick Korea, Bill Evans, Charlie Parker… You name a quartet you’ve heard playing as part of the cultural background in America since Jazz was invented, and I’d put this group alongside them. And I’ve only ever heard one song by them.
Just the one. And it’s that fucking good that I feel confident enough to tell you, this is one of the greatest Jazz quartets to ever play.
Tohru Aizawa Quartet played out in clubs and small concert halls for a little side cash, but mostly just for fun. Indulging in the (then) recently-unforbidden sounds of a post-World War II musical aberration in the eyes of Japanese power structure, these guys play with joy coming out of their instruments. They were discovered by a local businessman for whom the record is named, Ikujiroh Tachibana. He financed, recorded, and produced the record for the lads — 200 to 300 copies at best guess. There was only the one pressing, and Tachibana used the record itself as a business card. There was never a second pressing, never a tour, never an international release… This record was truly a once-and-done relic of late 60’s Jazz culture in Japan.
That is, until BBE (Barely Breaking Even) records released an incredible sampler album earlier this year of Japanese Jazz, collected by Tony Higgins & Mike Peden, appropriately titled J-Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz from 1969-1984. The fine folks at BBE have done the world a monster favor with this collection. They’ve opened a door previously unopened to a collection of amazing, never before heard (in most of the world) music, which is nearly unheard of in 2018. All of the tracks on this record come from albums that had no international release outside of Japan, which itself had only a niche (but VERY supportive) Jazz community. If you like Yoko Kanno, and especially her work on Kids on the Slope and Cowboy Bebop, this is mandatory listening. Please, do yourself a favor and check the whole record out. But don’t be shocked when you find yourself playing the 2nd track, Dead Letter by Tohru Aizawa Quartet, on the digital album (and first song on the 2nd record if you get the vinyl) on repeat.
Oh my God, that song is amazing.
So, like everyone else who had no idea any of this existed until BBE made it possible to enjoy it, I got super obsessed. I searched out every single group on the album and downloaded every song I could find by them. To my surprise, I couldn’t find any further tracks by Tohru Aizawa Quartet besides Dead Letter. It was a shock, but a super refreshing one: here I sit in 2018, after 25 years of being online most of my day every day, and there’s music I can’t find.
When BBE announced they created a remastered pressing of Tohru Aizawa Quartet’s Tachibana and are releasing it this year, I was overjoyed. I have played the groves flat on my copy of J-Jazz (that I was lucky enough to get one of the last copies available). I have played Dead Letter I don’t know how many times. It’s the PERFECT mood record in my office, with the cool cyberpunky club lighting and art on the walls and cigars and whiskey. I may have to buy another copy (fun fact– the only other record in my collection with as many plays is Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue).
So, I placed my order two months ago, and I am counting down the days until July 29, when the record is due to be shipped, so I can count down even more days until UPS brings it to my door. And periodically, I’ll get curious to see if the album has leaked out anywhere. I search and I search, and to both my dismay and delight, I find nothing. That is, until this week, when I found a rare music collector had digitized and uploaded the full album to YouTube.
It may surprise you, and it DEFINITELY surprised me, that I closed the window without listening. While I was glad to see someone had done this so that others can find it easily, and while in days past I would have put this on endless loop until I got my own copy, this time… I chose not to indulge. It sits neatly bookmarked in my folder for later enjoyment, after I get my physical copy and perform this ritual:
I’m going to delicately slice open the box and lift the flaps. I’ll admire the gloss of the cellophane-coated record sleeve, soaking in the design of the album cover and back cover. I’ll then even-more-delicately slice open the cellophane around the record sleeve and slowly pull out the (presumably) white tissue record sleeve, and then pull from it the beautiful ink-black vinyl disc. I’ll admire the craftsmanship of this artifact as I gingerly place the record on the turntable spindle. Laying the needle ever so kindly on the entry groove, I’ll take a seat in my lounger in my office with the lights down and a choice cigar lit and a pour of an extremely fine old scotch in a Glencarin glass by my side. And then, I’m just going to listen. I’m going to savor the sounds along with the flavors of my drink and cigar and enjoy two of the rarest things on this planet right now: 1) an album almost no one has heard in almost 50 years, that stands as one of the greatest Jazz recordings ever made, finally available in the age of digital downloaded instant-streaming everything, and 2) some peace and joy in an era where there is precious little to be found.
With me until that moment is the knowledge that at whatever point I choose, I can just hit play on that YouTube link and listen to it whenever I want. I am truly thankful for that link and that video, because everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy such treasures — a philosophy I’ve lived my life by since the day I got online. I’ve never believed in forcing people to pay to enjoy art. I am an avid collector of finery and rare artifacts, and have made considerable effort to make what I have bought and acquired available to anyone who wants to see it for free online (especially the Akira art and rare albums, both of which I’ve spent a lot of time digitizing and releasing for anyone who wants it).
To be extra clear: I haven’t a single problem whatsoever with the fact this album is “leaked” especially since it came out in 1969, and honestly should have been released worldwide then… It’s much less a “leak” and more a service to humanity at large that this link now exists. And that’s why I’ve embedded it, so YOU can enjoy it whenever you like. But me? I’m choosing to wait. And that’s a weird and new feeling for me. Maybe it’s adulthood setting in; perhaps I’ve finally “Grown up” and waiting for something isn’t torture anymore.
Or, maybe I want to put myself into a place of actual anticipation for a record — something I’ve not felt since the mid to late 90’s. Maybe I want that cerebral experience of a brand new experience from something not brand new at all… The joys of a long delayed discovery that gets to be all my own, the same way it’ll get to be all your own if you choose to do it, because an artifact like this — A musical album made in 1969, that all the way until 2018, had never penetrated the cultural veil of Japanese music fans, Jazz music fans, Vinyl collectors, Esoteric MP3 seekers… And whats more, from the one song I have listened to (and on repeat, many many many times, since it came out), is fucking AMAZING… And it was made by kids – almost high schoolers – Who just loved jazz so much they decided to play it together, and they did so at a virtuoso level…
And maybe I want to have that amazing moment before this thing inevitably explodes, and all the hipsters claim to have heard about it back before anyone possibly could have (considering there were only 200 copies pressed, half of which were handed to people as a business card by the producer, who probably threw them away…). The story of this album is almost tailor-made to make it a social media hit. And I’m certain it will be, because it’s already showing all the signs — including goofball blogger types full of despair that the huge, gross mistakes they made in their career to get attention is merely table stakes to exist online anymore, writing long missives about it as an avatar for their midlife crisis on their blog.
(That’s me, by the way.)
Maybe I’m so goddamn fatigued by “influencers” and “Social media hackers” and “Personal Brand Experts” and literal Nazis on Twitter and robots pretending to be all of the above, all day, every day.. If they’re not showing up themselves in my daily reading, I can bet that at least 1 article out of 10 in my daily reading will cover a topic involving them. And it doesn’t matter how acutely or expertly I tailor my feed and trim it back… It’s encroaching so fast on all sides, that there’s not a single corner of my little world that doesn’t have a crack in it somewhere that lets the sound of these things in.
Maybe I’m just feeling all of that combined.
Or maybe, I just want to listen to a legendary record that has been re-released for the first time in a lovely, comfortable setting with a nice cigar and scotch and no distractions. I mean, it doesn’t have to be all that complicated, right?