By Steve Jones.
It's time to do what I do best, and that's talk about Japanese albums from the '80s. Today, we take a listen to Hajime Tachibana's (立花ハジメ) 1983 album Hm.
A few days ago, I knew nothing of Tachibana. My only reason for looking into this record was that it had been released on Yen Records, an Alfa Records imprint label that had been run by Yellow Magic Orchestra members Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi. The label didn't last very long, but it ended up being a nexus for interesting Japanese pop artists, including Jun Togawa, Miharu Koshi, and Koji Ueno, so he was in good company at the very least.
Tachibana previously had been a member of the new wave group Plastics as their guitarist, but this record finds him exploring his talent with the alto saxophone. The result is 40 minutes of sax-driven instrumental pieces. I'm still struggling to come up with a good way to classify this album, because I honestly haven't heard too many instrumental albums quite of this nature. Typically, you'd expect a record led by the sax to be jazz or easy-listening or mind-bending (a la Colin Stetson), but Hm is none of these things. It more accurately resembles a collection of modern classical music, but one with as heavy a debt to '80s pop and new wave as to the school of Minimalism.
Although the saxophone is the lead voice throughout, the arrangements of the tracks really shine. The sound is never too overbearing, but Tachibana is backed by piano, a myriad of other brass and woodwinds, and percussion. The label of art pop is very appropriate, and in a different context many of these tracks would have sounded right at home backing a spoken word piece by Laurie Anderson. Or maybe as part of a Talking Heads song. But as they are, each piece stands alone quite well and offers a quintessentially '80s portrait of music that could be both fun and ambitious.
I love the way the album begins, with a booming timpani and schizoid horns that bring to mind a demented army march. My personal favorite track is "Arrangement," which is actually not a Tachibana original but an "arrangement" (ha) of the Ryuichi Sakamoto track by the same name. Tachibana's technical prowess with his instrument is made obvious by the smoothness of his solos, and it is simply a great piece of pop. The longest track, "Liquid," is also the strangest, with spooky synth noises in the background of a family of almost comically audacious horns. It brings to mind a more toned down, more sci-fi version of the Tom Waits instrumental "Midtown." But Hm does have its share of startlingly beautiful moments, and "This Is...!!! (Death Video)" has a wonderful woodwind accompaniment that brightens and enhances the melancholy piece.
Hajime Tachibana surprised me with this record, and I'm extremely glad to be aware of who he is now. If you are a fan of the saxophone, or you want to hear a piece of the '80s that hasn't been shamelessly recycled by modern artists, or if you just want to hear something unique and instrumental, I cannot recommend Hm enough.