T-Square’s EWI Legends

Those that do follow me know how much of a huge T-Square fan I am, and one of the signature sounds of the band comes from the EWI – Electronic Wind Instrument.  Manufactured by Akai, the EWI has been described by the gang from Video Games Live! as a ‘terminator flute’ and to be honest, it’s true.  It’s easy to dismiss the instrument because it sounds like a over-hyped synthesizer, but it packs power if you know how to play.  Given that T-Square had three sax / EWI players during their history, I decided to show my favorite live performances that  you can find on YouTube, so please check the videos out below and enjoy!

Takahiro Miyazaki was T-Square’s third saxman and EWI artist before band legend Takeshi Itoh returned.  Here he’s jamming to the amazing Knight’s Song, which would eventually become Masahiro Andoh’s “Moon over the Castle” for the Gran Tursimo game series.  Watch how the tempo of the band makes him almost explode!

Second is the insane Masato Honda.  Many fans consider him to be the best and most talented front-man of the group due to his amazing improvisations.  He’s a great artist but I still think Itoh-san is the best.  I don’t care how crazy his version of Truth is, but that’s Itoh’s song.  However, Honda-san’s got TONS of EWI hits to his name.  Samurai Metropolis, Door to Tomorrow, Little League Star, Crown & Roses and more.  However, for my money, his EWI hit would have to be Faces.

And lastly, Takeshi Itoh, the legend of T-Square, has that ONE song.  The song that put them on the map.  The song that made them an international sensation.  The song that no one forgot….TRUTH.  Seriously folks, ’nuff said.

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Naika Reviews “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories” from Netflix

midnight-diner

Despite my huge love for manga and anime, I believe you learn more about Japanese culture through television and film.  So what better way for you to soak it all in than to binge watch the newest season of a long running Japanese TV show adapted from a food manga?  Originally known as Shinya Shokudo, Netflix was able to get the rights to a brand new 4th season for 2016 called Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories.  It’s great television with lots of heart as we see the comings and goings of various patrons as they shack up a late night snack with our titular owner chef.  Portrayed by Kaoru Kobayashi, the “Master” is a quiet but warm character who acts as the silent cauldron that warms the broth of each new character’s story.  Whether it simmers, goes flat or boils over is something you’ll cherish as each episode slowly unfolds.

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Naika Reviews T-Square’s “WINGS” (2012)

T-Square’s new effort is nothing short of uplifting.  If the album title “Wings” doesn’t at least give you the hint of that, then you deserve yourself a whack across the head.  Joyous, uplifting and fresh, T-Square’s “Wings” is one heck of an album.

Andoh’s Heroes is a great way to start the album up, and although I was looking for something along the lines of a no-holds barred EWI power ballad like Truth or Faces, it is what it is, and that’s fine with me.  There’s a great deal of dramatic power going on with Kawano’s Flight of the Phoenix, which is simply awesome, while the fast paced fusion from tracks like Flashpacker and Fast Break keep the album energetic.  However, it’s tracks like Sympathy and Natsu no Ashioto that give the album a bit more variety and depth.  Sympathy itself is a moving seven minute track full of emotion while Natsu no Ashioto is a summer time stroll in the park which features T.K. Itoh making pleasant melodies on the flute.  That’s right, the flute.  It’s been a while since he’s done that on an album, right?

In addition to all of that, what’s not to love about the rest of the album?  The summer festivities roll on with Sunshower, along with The Bird of Wonder, while Tell Your Story has a nice slice of funk to it thanks to the much improved bass thumping of Shingo Tanaka (I wonder if he’ll ever become a full fledged member, because he’s starting to grow on me).

And let’s not forget the upbeat theme track to Japan’s Sunday Scramble TV show, Cheer Up!  Fast, funky and full of flair, this track, along with Bandoh’s Little Big Life from “Nine Stories,” really showcases Satoshi’s knack for writing some funky and fresh sounds for the group.  If there’s any song in the album that you might want to hit up first once you crack open that jewel case, I’ll put my money on Cheer Up!

As T-Square nears its 35th anniversary, it’s nice to know that year after year the gang still finds a way to get the most out of themselves to create another great album.  Like “Natural” and even “Natsu no Wakusei,” the band paints a lush summer picture with each track while giving you enough variety in terms of sound that there should be little to complain about.  Dynamic, pleasant, moving and, ultimately, uplifting, T-Square accomplishes so much with “Wings” that by the end of it all, you’ll feel as if you were soaring across the sky.

Naika Reviews T-SQUARE’S LIVE “NATURAL” (1990)

If there was any band in Japan that illustrated that jazz fusion was a vibrant, edgy but prodigious genre, it would have to be T-Square for me.  Formed in 1978 as a university jazz group led by kick-ass guitarist Masahiro Andoh, T-Square is now a band that is currently closing in on its 35th year of existence (in 2013) and continues to have an album or two made, EVERY DAMN YEAR!  Last year’s Nine Stories was a homerun of an album that had all sorts of jazz fusion goodness, thanks to their two younger members, the effervescent Keizoh Kawano and the young gun drummer known as Satoshi Bandoh (both of whom have released solo albums recently to much fanfare).

Grateful as I am to the new stuff that’s being pumped out by the most recent lineup of the band, I’m using the time that I have here to talk about the T-Square lineup that I love THE MOST, along with one of my favorite performances ever captured on video from them, and that’s their live concert in Asahikawa: T-Square’s Live Natural ’90.

Featuring the artful Hirotaka Izumi on keyboards, the funky bass of Mitsuru Sutoh and the powerful drum work of Hiroyuki Noritake, along with Andoh-san and Mr. Takeshi Itoh himself, T-Square’s most famous lineup was in full force for this performance.  Marketed as a video and laserdisc, T-Square’s Live Natural was a performance for the ages, celebrating both the release of their 1990 album of the same name, along with the simple idea of what it means to be “Natural.”

Aside from the 90s fashion sensibilities, the one thing you will notice is that it’s an outdoor venue, with the lush landscape of Hokkaido vying hard for center stage.  Much of the song listing for the concert is fitting too, with nature-themed tracks such as White Mane, Daisy Field and Wind Song helping to fill the dots with the rest of the album’s hits like Control and Radio StarMorning Star from their 1989 album WAVE makes an appearance to rock the audience while the appropriate Duo allows Noritake and Sutoh to wow the crowd with the importance and skill required for a drummer and bassist to make a jazz fusion band go bump in the night.  And lastly, there’s no other way the band can end the night without performing their number one hit, Truth.

All in all, T-Square’s Live Natural was, and is, a complete performance showcasing the strengths of the band and the amount of musicianship it takes to create something more lasting than what you’d find in your basic Top 40.  With easy accessibility on YouTube, due in part to some generous T-Square fans overseas, anyone can access this awesome show with the touch of their fingertips.  For those of you that are unfamiliar with this type of music and the amount of class this band has, do your best to open your eyes, and most importantly your ears, to what T-Square can offer, and from what you’ll find and see, you will truly know what it means, at least in a musical sense, to be natural.

NOTE: All image scans courtesy of Fenikon at the Fenikon’s Jazz Blog.

Weekend Roundup (10-15-2011 to 10-16-2011)

RVP demanding the blood of his enemies after scoring with an unbelievable free kick against Sunderland for Arsenal.

After a long week of experiments at the lab, I was able to take a chill pill after work on Friday at Mr. Dunderbak’s with my Post-doc Kelley and her pal Kate.  German beer and some potato pancakes were the name of the game, and they were fabulous.  After a round of that, some lab chat, and some laughs, it was time to head on back home to check out a movie that I’ve been meaning to watch for the LONGEST time, and that film was Little Big Soldier starring none other than Jackie Chan.

Wang Leehom (Top) is Jackie Chan's captive in the humorous Warring States Road Trip that is "Little Big Soldier" (2010).

Some might argue that Jackie is past his prime to do all the things that he’s done before, but the film does well in illustrating the fact that, yes, he IS past his prime by allowing him to take on the role of an old soldier who’s simply trying to earn a reward from his home army by turning in an enemy general.  However, in true road trip fashion, the two encounter all sorts of obstacles, most of which offer handfuls of laughs, while learning a little bit more about each other.  Our virtuous enemy general (played by Taiwanese actor /musician Wang Leehom) is young, righteous, and always ready to fight for king and country, while Jackie’s “Old Soldier” plays dead during big battles, runs away, throws rocks, is pessimistic about war and is more or less the polar opposite of his captive.  The editing and transition work was not to my taste in the beginning half of the movie, but things eventually progressed well and the amount of humanity displayed by all of the characters in the film was wonderful to see.  If you’re a JC fan like me that’s looking for a chance to see your old hero in a new light, then watch Little Big Soldier as soon as possible (Thank you Netflix!!).

Godzilla and his son are trollin' like vatos in Humboldt Park in "Destroy All Monsters" (1968).

Saturday was quite the day since Tampa Bay Anime was celebrating Halloween early with the Horror / Kaiju Night at the usual venue at Perkins.  Much of that night was devoted to watching some High School of the Dead, Hellsing Ultimate and the main event, Destroy All Monsters.  The film featured a plethora of kaiju from the Godzilla universe, including the main man himself, Rodan, Ghidorah, Mothra and more.  With 13 people attending the event, it was a laugh riot to say the least.  Much of our loud laughing was not just simply due to the fact that we were watching a horrendously dubbed monster movie from 1968 that had its WTF moments, but the fact that King Ghidorah was given a gangland-style beating was enough to make us wonder if Godzilla was a vato from South Central or Humboldt Park.  All in all, with plenty of zombies, vampires and giant monsters, it was a good night indeed!!

RVP's game-winner against Sunderland. Brilliant stuff goddammit!!!

Lastly, Sunday started off well with a wonderful win for Arsenal against Sunderland which I hope will be some welcome relief to the fans after what happened against Spurs.  I missed the first thirty minutes, but Gervinho’s assist to RVP was dynamic, where the Dutchman scored low on his right foot on the 28th second of the match, putting the Gunners ahead quite early.  Larsson of Sunderland scored from a free kick to put them level by the end of the first half, but the second half showed a different Arsenal.  Rosciky had a brilliant game where he lost no balls and did his best to outdribble Sunderland’s midfield while Jenkinson showed some pacy moves and some fancy crosses at the right back position.  Arshavin soon came on to sub Gervinho as Santos came in to replace an ailing Gibbs, and already, the pace of Arsenal’s attack had changed.  Arshavin in particular made a great effort in the box by dribbling past 3 to 4 defenders before shooting wide on the field, which is by far his best performance yet for this season.  However, the scene-stealer was RVP’s free kick goal.  It was an unbelievable event for me, but my father, who was watching the game with me, was confident that it would go in.  I was screaming when the ball hit the back of the net, I won’t lie.  Arsenal would go on to win the game, 2-1.  An astounding victory indeed.

Arino-san meets the most giggly fan ever in L.A.'s Japan Arcade on Game Center CX's "Kacho in U.S.A." episode (2011).

And finally, a good weekend wouldn’t be one without a viewing of Game Center CX.  Thanks to the Something Awful forums, Zanz was able to get the recent 2 hour special of Kacho Arino’s visit to the U.S.A.  Much of his visit hinged on checking out places such as San Francisco’s Musee Mechanique, In-N-Out Burger, a crab shack in Fisherman’s Wharf, a retro game store outside of SF, an American laudromat, and finally L.A., to meet fans of the show.  In addition, in true Game Center fashion, Arino played Data East’s Robocop for the Famicom, with the goal of finishing all 6 stages.  It was quite an “American” episode for sure, but it all ended well when Arino finally met his fans in the U.S., where he was greeted to thunderous cheers and applause.  150 fans showed up to the event and he actually took the time to shake each one’s hand and take a photo with them, and moreover, the show was actually nice enough to interview some of the fans.  I’m sure this show would not do well amidst the hustle and bustle of traditional American syndication, but that’s why the internet rules.  It can circumvent all of that bullshit and give the goods to those who really give a damn about material like this.  All in all, Game Center C.X.’s U.S.A. episode was a win in all fronts!

Well, that wraps up the weekend folks.  Hope to see you all again on the next post.  Until then, rock on!

Naika Reviews “CITY HUNTER: Million Dollar Conspiracy”

Emily O'Hara stirs her pot of stew to Ryo Saeba's "smoking" personals ad long before the advent of Craigslist. Image courtesy of blog.naver.com

For those of you who have watched my material from the YouTube channel, it is no surprise that I am a huge fan of “City Hunter.”  With its heart set firmly in the 80s and early 90s, CH is that seminal show that offers little in the realm of thought, but makes up for that through slick character designs, awesome animation, a sex-crazed sharpshooter as the protagonist and an overall atmosphere that continues to revel in the urban glory of pre-bubble-burst Japan.  In this day and age however, it’s harder than your ex-girlfriend’s nipples in a midwestern winter for the majority of young anime fans to take a man in a sports jacket seriously, but once the magnum is whipped out and the bullets are flying, even the haters will learn that the last thing you’d want to be is a corpse under the gun of the City Hunter.

In City Hunter, Tokyo is Japan’s thriving epicenter, filled with neon lights, busy streets, towering skyscrapers and beautiful people.  However, beneath all of this is a seedy underworld where anything is up for grabs.  Our hero Ryo Saeba is a man who makes it his living to aid ANY female hottie who gets herself caught up between these two worlds, mainly because he’s a sweeper that operates amidst the fringes of both crime and the law.  When Ryo’s not chasing tail or going to titty bars, he runs the Saeba Firm, where those who are seeking a bodyguard or gumshoe need only to write the letters “XYZ” on the blackboard of Shinjuku station to summon him.  That was always the usual beat to which City Hunter stroked its proverbial guitar to, but for this OVA, we’re introduced to a bonerriffic blonde by the name of Emily O’Hara.

Emily O'Hara is just begging for some Butter on Cream action in "City Hunter: Million Dollar Conspiracy" (1990)

Released in the summer of 1990 after City Hunter 3, Million Dollar Conspiracy (let’s abbreviate to CH:MDC shall we?) starts off when Emily O’Hara leaves the confines of Los Angeles to find Mr. Saeba in Japan.  With the unusual story of her needing a bodyguard to defend her from the mafia, Emily tempts both Kaori (Ryo’s business partner / tormentor) and Ryo to the job with the offer of a million bucks.  Although Kaori’s mind is solely interested in the moolah, Ryo is obviously interested in something else (i.e. pumping Emily’s american oil fields with a good dose of Japanese steel).  Kaori is obviously incensed, but the thought of a million dollars is too good to pass up, and thus the team compromises and decides to get to work.  Although the gist of the job seems simple, things get a tad bit complicated when we find out that someone came to Japan from L.A. to snuff out Ryo.  Kaori has some suspicions that it could be Emily, but when a steady stream of remote controlled cars and tanks armed with explosives tries to rattle Saeba’s chains (yeah, I know it sounds hokey, but don’t be such an uppity anime fan, please?), the stage soon becomes set for an explosive showdown with booby traps and gunsmoke galore.

By many accounts, CH:MDC seems to fit all the categories for standard OVA fare, but what really sets the bar for this one is the animation.  Once again, Sunrise overachieves with this one, where the colors, movement and art direction shine throughout the entire 45 minutes.  With smooth, classy character designs, great direction from Kenji Kodama and a slew of detailed backgrounds, it’s really hard to top the looks here unless somebody slipped a mickey in my Kool-Aid.  All in all, CH:MDC is one gorgeous piece of work.

If there’s anything to trip this beauty up, then its got to be the obvious: story and plot.  Like many other OVA offshoots that appear after the end of a season, CH:MDC is kinda like a big big episode that’s meant to garner interest in the series after a small absence on the tube, which usually means that the story isn’t exactly written to win a fucking Pulitzer (although I am told by most otaku that Evangelion has won 900 and counting).  The story is standard stuff, including some of the plot twists that you’ll find later in your viewing, but what annoys me about CH:MDC are the usual things that annoy me when I’m watching an episode of CH, and that’s the melodrama.  Emily’s motivations throughout the OVA are rooted in exacting revenge on the would-be killer of her brother Daniel, a former CIA operative who apparently found out a dangerous secret about his superior.  She gets angry, throws fits of despair, and has some melodramatic flashbacks of her bro that is somehow coupled with her not being able to fire a fucking gun properly.  At least Ryo sets her ass straight and teaches her a thing or two when it comes time for her to step up to the plate (cue melodramatic piano solo).  It’s not earth-shatteringly bad, but is in fact common in CH’s animated universe.  You would think that given the fact that it was an OVA, there might be more room for freedom away from the show’s prior conventions, but then again, if you didn’t have the average melodrama, it wouldn’t be CH either.

The first time I watched CH:MDC was between 2000 and 2001 while I was hanging out in GrumpyGrad’s place during high school.  He started getting into anime and was soon interested in the coolness that was CH.  I knew about CH during my ventures into Thailand with my folks in the late 80s and early 90s, but sitting down to see this OVA with him more or less made me into a fan again.  After finally getting my grubby hands on this DVD after a decade or so later, I can truly say that watching it now is just as good as watching it then with GrumpyGrad.  CH:MDC isn’t gonna win any awards or get any fist bumps from the Anime News Network, but it doesn’t need to.  With outstanding animation, slick direction and an eye for everything cool, CH:MDC is another loving look back at a bygone era of animation when Japan was king of the world, sports jackets were hip and our mongoloid protagonist was more than willing to risk his hide to bury his dong knee deep in some good ol’ American vag.  Cheers otakus!