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. To kick things back off after a short hiatus, we’re checking out a new reissue of an ultra rare masterclass of Japanese free jazz.
Tohru Aizawa Quartet’s sole album has the kind of couldn’t-make-it-up story behind it that surely every cult classic must have in order to attain such a status. Recorded by a group of young University students who gigged locally in their spare time, the fact that the album was recorded by musicians technically classified as amateurs completely belies the frankly mind boggling amount of energy and frisson with which they perform. A collection of five ceaselessly high-speed, buoyant compositions, ‘Tachibana Vol. 1’ was paid for and recorded by the owner of a local jazz club, who pressed the album in a tiny run and used it as a business card, of all things. Having never seen reissue prior to this recent rerelease by BBE Records, the album languished in relative obscurity – known only to hardcore jazz collectors, amongst whom copies change hands for anywhere between £500 – £800. That price-tag might be painfully hefty, but it’s not altogether surprising considering the album’s extreme rarity and equally abundant quality. Opening cut ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ sets the pace (very literally) for the 50-odd minutes to come. The tempo is break-neck and it doesn’t let up for a moment of its 10 minute runtime; this is not your Grandad’s sleepy, meek jazz: this is powerful stuff made by musicians with a real fire in their bellies. Pianist and bandleader Aizawa doesn’t so much tickle the ivories as beat them into submission and the rest of the group likewise perform with a rare degree of gusto. This is no racket, however, as the beautifully soulful, smoky ambience of ‘Sacrament’ amply proves. It’s a varied collection which sees the group oscillating between searching soul-jazz, frenetic post-bop and Latin-infused fever dreams – all performed with a feisty style which allows the album to stand out as a compelling and unique piece of work.
BBE have gone the extra mile with this reissue. Where the original pressing sufficed with one LP, this version spreads the album across two. While a few may grumble at the 10 – 15 minute long sides, many more will doubtless bask in the absolutely immaculate sound quality that such short sides have resulted in. As would be expected from spreading a 50 minute album over two LPs, fidelity is perfect and bears not so much as a hint of inner groove distortion or other such maladies. The wax has been pressed by Germany’s Pallas, and they have done a typically sterling job here. Playback is essentially perfect on all four sides of our copy, which is not something we say lightly or often. The noise floor is negligible and playback is fastidiously clean with not so much as a crackle to be heard. If an original pressing even exists with sound as clean as this reissue, then it would surely sport a price-tag fit for a King. This reissue, on the other hand, has been released only recently and remains available at a very reasonable price considering the abundantly evident quality on display. Special mention must go to the engineers of the original recording, as well; the album is excellently recorded and the reissue has spruced things up even further. The upright bass in particular sounds excellent across the whole album but each instrument shines in its own way too.
A quick listen to the records demonstrates the attention to detail in the musical aspect of this reissue, but what about the packaging and presentation? It’s a pleasure to report just how much that impresses, as well. The sleeve makes for a great first impression; a solidly constructed laminated gatefold, it leaves a very favourable first impression. The classy, distinctive cover art is reproduced well, as are the back cover and inner gatefold spreads. Colours are good throughout and image definition is also solid. The cover accurately reproduces that of the original pressing, including the Japanese liner notes, which have been translated into English for the first time on a new insert included here and not found on the original. In addition to the original notes, newly penned reissue notes are included and go a long way to filling in the blanks about the album’s unique and intriguing story. Rounding off the package is an eye-catching OBI strip – a very appropriate inclusion given the music’s country of origin. Presentation is excellent here and that will doubtless mean a lot to those collectors who are unlikely to ever even see an original pressing, let alone own one.
The BBE Records reissue of Tohru Aizawa Quartet’s ‘Tachibana Vol. 1’ is a class act throughout. The album itself is truly deserving of a new influx of listeners and this reissue will surely earn it that long-overdue recognition. Packaging and presentation has clearly been given much thought here and the pressing itself is likewise extremely impressive.