Yonin Bayashi – Isshoku-Sokuhatsu – 4.5/5
With a name that literally translates to “four musicians” you could argue that this '74 debut could sound like they might be a little bland an uncreative, but instead it feels more apt as each one seems to morph into a legendary musician from the 70s to lend their touch to proceedings. And yet because they're all dealing with their own persona, trying to pinpoint precisely where their influences lie seems like a bit of a chore; their music is unquestionably psychedelic and progressive, following suit with many of the British bands at the time, but the combination of all the different sounds that come together as they meander their course results in something that feels if not wholly original then certainly refreshing to hear.
There can be no question of the abilities of the musicians, and they all manage to work their complex, multi-layered compositions as though they'd being performing together for decades and already knew precisely what style everyone else is likely to do, but it is the vocals that brings it all down a notch. That's certainly not to say that he's a bad vocalist, he's nothing of the sort to bring down the quality at all but there is that inherent language barrier; the unforgettable chorus lines of “Roundabout,” “In the Court of the Crimson King” or “Silver Machine” making the tracks all the more memorable here seem lacking as a result, and if the whole piece wasn't so jam-packed with smooth grooves, transitional passages and wailing vocals that still manage to compensate for this language barrier it could almost become problematic.
There's that Floyd-like psychedelic wave from the guitars, adding touches of McLaughlin's wandering fusion fretwork and interspersed with space-age jazzy keyboard and minimoog work that recalls the likes of Sun-Ra or Wakeman's more serene work with Yes (or if perhaps he was stoned). The bass-lines feel torn straight from Crimson's collaborations with Wettman (“Red” in particular springs to mind) and when the drums kick off and the Deep Purple solo guitars kick off, you suddenly jolt back to reality when you suddenly realise that Blackmore's singing in Japanese.
It's worth bearing in mind that the musicians were only just hitting their 20s at the time, and for a debut recording it's nothing short of mind-blowing; their career only lasted a few short years and a handful of albums resulting in them all too quickly falling into those that were forgotten. With only a couple of mis-stepped tracks that feel suddenly underwhelming coming after the two epic's that preceded it, this is one release that but for being released in the wrong country and being sung in a foreign language probably would have found it's way to the 'collectors classics' pile by now. This may not be a British prog rock supergroup but it's likely the closest you'll find.
Highlights: Omatsuri, Isshoku-Sokuhatsu