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Japan Society’s Adventurous Eclecticism: Spotify Playlist

Yu Sakai at Japan Society October 2011

“When I book artists to play at Japan Society, it is a bit like being a DJ. In both instances, I am trying to share a ‘!!!!’ moment with the listener, a moment when I feel I have heard something truly original, something I have never heard before,” says the society’s Artistic Director Yoko Shioya. To demonstrate her point the Japan Society has announced it’s new season program with a special Spotify playlist highlighting a cross section of performers who have graced their stage. The 24 song listening experience, compiled by Shioya, gives a clear perspective of the delicious array of styles that the society has hosted over the past six years. The playlist can be accessed on any computer or portable device running Spotify.

1. Oorutaichi – Futurelina (EYE Remix)
2. Bang On A Can All-Stars – Sunray
3. Vijay Iyer – Forgotten System
4. Somei Satoh – Ruika
5. Hiromitsu Agatsuma – Tsugaru Jongara-bushi (Kyu-bushi)
6. Yosuke Yamashita – J. G. Bird 
7. Nobukazu Takemura – Assembler Mix
8. Aoki Takamasa – mnd-sng01
9. Sachiko M – Detect
10. Hikashu – Nikoseron
11. Yamantaka Eye – Anarchy Way
12. Keiji Haino – Aria I
13. Mike Patton – Inconsolable Widows In Search Of Distraction
14. Ken Ueno – Kaze-no-Oka
15. Bill Laswell – Improvised Music #2
16. John Zorn – You Rang?
17. Afrirampo – Afrirampo
18. Harry Partch’s Delusion of the Fury: The Pilgrimage
19. Akiko Yano – Omoide No Sampo-michi
20. Ikue Mori – Ghostlake
21. Teiji Ito – Quetzalcoatl I: Opening Chant/Gemstones
22. Ryoji Ikeda – Test Pattern #0100
23. Yu Sakai – Kiss Of Life (Live From Tokyo)
24. Asobi Seksu – Strawberries
25. Otomo Yoshihide – 2*10′
26. Christian Marclay – One Thousand Cycles

Love Yu Live…
I had the pleasure of covering Cibo Matto’s performance as part of last season’s offerings. Their opening act, keyboardist/vocalist Yu Sakai, performed an engaging blend of pop and soul with great skill and instantly became a favorite of mine. His set slyly opened with a beautiful rendition of “Sukiyaki”, to this day the only Japanese language song to reach number one on the U.S. pop charts.

Sakai went on to use his synth workstations and loopers to build rhythm tracks and shimmering layers of vocal harmonies live on stage. Step by step he constructed a sonic cathedral over which he floated his lead vocal. His cover of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” using this method must be experienced live. With his mellifluous voice, knowledge of the past and eye to the future, Sakai is a contender for international pop supremacy. I hope he will return to New York as a headliner sometime in the near future.

Catch an exclusive interview and a bit of Yu’s Japan Society performance here.

Get It On, Bang A Can…
The late 2012 program includes a November 16 booking of xeno-noise architect Taichi Moriguchi, musically known as Oorutaichi. Moriguchi has been experimenting since the 90’s and his kitchen sink grooves sound like everything from 8-bit tweaking to Raymond Scott and Spike Jones fighting their way out of your broom closet.

Scheduled for December 8 is Bang On A Can’s performance of a newly commissioned work by jazz artist Vijay Iyer. Iyer’s piece is inspired by traditional Japanese art of the Rimpa School . To expand the experience Art Director Shioya reports, “An exhibition of priceless Rimpa works will run concurrently at Japan Society…providing audiences with a rare opportunity to see both the product and the inspiration.”

The complete line-up for fall through spring 2012/2013, including performances and workshops, can be found here. Tickets and Memberships can be purchased at Japan Society’s website.

Hold the Pickles, Hold the Lettuce: Cibo Matto @ Japan Society

Miho and Jared Rap the Bossa Nova @ Japan Society


Good things often come in three’s and on the evening of October 20th, 2011 those three things came with a savory and sweet Japanese flavor. It was a great thrill to be able to cover the reunited Cibo Matto, be introduced to the music of Yu Sakai, in a sold out show under the roof of the Japan Society.

Japan Society incorporates a lovely concert space in its confines which are located near the United Nations Building in New York City. It’s lobby, with indoor waterfall and live bamboo garden, conveys the restive essence of Japanese architecture. I was lucky enough to see Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori, AKA Cibo Matto, do excellent solo sets there a number of years ago. That show was followed by a Q&A session in the lobby where the main query was would they ever return to the stage as a duo. At that time it seemed unlikely the ladies, though clearly still friends, would work together again. Times change and after a couple of benefit show get-together’s this year a reunion tour was booked.

On the surface Cibo Matto is a melange of disparate sources and influences. Hip-Hop, Jazz, Samba, Bossa Nova, New Wave Synthesis and Sampling all play a part in the unique pastiche. In the creative hands of Yuka and Miho those components become a musical “umami”; a nearly indescribable listen that once heard is not easily forgotten.

Special Orders Don’t Upset Us…
Yuka and Miho started the set offering up “Apple”, “Beef Jerky” and “Le Pain Perdu” before bringing the rhythm section onto the stage. Bassist Jesse Murphy of Brazilian Girls and drummer Yuko Araki (Mi-Goo) turn Cibo Matto into a funky stage outfit punctuating the urban swing and sway of tunes like “BBQ” and “Know Your Chicken”. I’ve been impressed with Yuko’s tight, articulated, drumming style since first seeing her on stage with Cornelius. It was an amazing feat to keep synched to his video backdrops throughout the show. Her playing at Japan Society was highlighted by a superb mix through the exceptional sound system.

Future Kombucha
It’s great to report that the group will be releasing new tunes soon. They treated the audience to “10th Floor Ghost Girl” and “Check In” as part of their set. “10th Floor” has a slinky tribal tom-tom groove that places it somewhere between 80’s Talking Heads and Peewee’s Playhouse retro.

SkeletonPete Says…
Having seen their show at The Bowery Ballroom early in the reunion tour, it was interesting to note the difference in the tenor of the two audiences. While the Bowery show was fully participated in with everyone singing along and boogying non-stop, the Japan Society show – though no less appreciated – was more of an observation and veneration of what the duo have created artistically. Miho did get the audience out of their seats on the encore, a rapped out version of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Aqua De Marco”, which brought onto the stage guitarist Nels Kline of Wilco, Sax player Doug Wieselman of Antony and The Johnsons and vocalist Jared Geller. Jared and Miho traded lines as the band percolated along on the Bossa Nova groove. The only disappointment of the evening is that they only presented the single encore tune with the guest line-up. Considering these players’ co-mingling in several other projects it seemed strange that they did not spin up another couple of songs together.

I’m working up a separate piece on pianist vocalist Yu Sakai, who wowed the crowd with his opening set.

Do yourself a favor and check out the up coming events at Japan Society, it’s a gem of a venue.