Vinyl Corner : George Ohtsuka Quintet ‘Loving You George’

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. This time around, we’re taking a look back at a release from revered jazz drummer and bandleader George Ohtsuka.

The Music:

It’s no secret that we here at Vinyl Corner love jazz music; it’s quite possibly the genre we’ve covered most frequently and, further to that, one of the styles which feels most suited to these charming slabs of plastic that we call records. Of all jazz’s manifold scenes and incarnations, however, there’s perhaps no other we appreciate quite as much as Japanese jazz – specifically that released during the scene’s ’70s and early ’80s halcyon days. For those who prefer their jazz raw, emotive and resolutely imaginative, it’s hard to argue with the almost unprecedented boom of soul-jazz, post-bop and modal-jazz groups within Nippon – most of whom formed at a time when American jazz had moved into the rather more questionable realms of pop-inflected jazz-fusion. Indeed, for those who swear by the innovations of US artists active in the late ’50s through to the late ’60s, the work produced by the best Japanese practitioners of the style essentially carried on a venerable – and otherwise increasingly rare – musical form well into the ’80s; all whilst placing a quintessentially Nipponese spin on the form. Of the many bandleaders within that bustling and vibrant movement, drummer George Ohtsuka is surely amongst the most widely respected – and for damn good reason. A prolific collaborator with more than a few classic LPs to his name, his nimble rhythmicality and deft leadership yielded a generous clutch of essential releases within his movement – and none more so than 1975’s ‘Loving You George’, a frenetically impassioned live set in which Ohtsuka and his quintet rip through gutsy covers and a stirring original from keyboardist Fumio Karashima (himself an adept composer and part-time bandleader). For those with the taste for such things, ‘Loving You George’ is prime mid-’70s Japanese jazz, delivered with all the raw passion and deftly consummate technicality typical of the movement. Freshly reissued by the excellent archival label wewantsounds, the album’s reappearance represents a boon both for long-time jazz aficionados and newcomers to the genre’s wonderful world.

The Pressing:

Frequent readers of vinyl corner may recall that we’ve reviewed a decent number of prior titles from wewantsounds and that we’ve been unilaterally impressed with their output – both in regard to their knowledgeable choice of cult-classic titles to reissue and in the excellent quality of their physical output. Their reissue of ‘Loving You George’ certainly doesn’t disappoint in either respect; pressed by the Czech Republic’s ever-popular GZ Media, this mid-weight disc appears clean from new, with surfaces free of the visual imperfections which too often appear on newly pressed titles. More importantly, though, it’s also a pressing which boasts scrupulously clean audio; the sonics themselves are excellent, having been remastered from the original tapes by King Records, the label which originally released this title back in the mid ’70s. The quality of this wewantsounds vinyl pressing more than lives up to that precedent, with low noise floors free of anything more than the faintest of occasional crackles. The group’s performances are viscerally energised; playing before an enthusiastic yet respectful audience, the band’s bond seems almost psychic – such is the intuitiveness with which they bounce off each other. In the hands of a less capable label the resultant sonics could well have become muddy and incoherent, yet never once do they approach such a quality on this reissue. Instead, the soundstage is at once both clear and impactful, with a realistic bass which possesses a tonal wavelength entirely its own, keyboards which glister exactly as they should and drums which hit with all the hair-raising impact they would doubtless have possessed had the listener been ensconced within in the audience.

The Packaging:

Evidently a labour of love, wewantsounds’ packaging and presentation is as respectful of the album’s original art direction as its remastered audio is of the music itself. A large yellow paper wrap-around slip is included with the release, approximating – though not quite facsimileing – the original release’s Obi strip. It’s a thoughtful inclusion – the kind that plenty of Western labels reissuing Japanese music have been known to overlook – yet most crucial of all is the fact that the barcode has been relegated to the rear of the slip, meaning that the cover itself remains free of its potential intrusion upon the art-design. This release’s presentation is therefore very faithful to the original’s, with the only obvious addendum being that of the wewantsounds logo in the bottom left hand corner of the back cover. The label designs are also faithful to those of the original pressing, even if the generic paper inner in which the record is sleeved could ideally have been polylined for better protection. Impressively, the print quality is excellent across both the front and back covers – a fact which cannot always be taken granted with such reissues, considering that the visual masters for many cult titles from the ’70s have been lost to time.

Final Thoughts:

The last few years have afforded Western listeners a far greater number of opportunities to discover vintage Japanese jazz than were previously available, with numerous labels in the UK and EU reissuing titles from the country’s bustling jazz movement on both vinyl and CD. For those who’ve followed such titles closely, wewantsounds’ reissue of ‘Loving You George’ marks a welcome opportunity to expand on what is likely an already-sizable collection – and a good thing too, as this is a thrilling slice of post-bop sonic hedonism which impresses by anyone’s standards. To those yet to familiarise themselves with Japanese jazz, however – be it vintage or contemporary – this reissue offers as good a starting point as any, with its focused yet exploratory performances being sufficiently gripping to feel accessible, whilst remaining so sophisticated that they will ably impress even the most seasoned of jazz-hounds.

Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at martin.leitch@gigsoupmusic.com – it would be great to hear from you!