One Friday afternoon in June 2011, knowing that my days in Tokyo were indeed numbered after my decision to head back home to Canada, I decided to take a long walk through some downtown areas of the Japanese megalopolis. During those few hours, I traipsed through Akasaka, Roppongi and Daimon, taking a lot of photographs with my Casio. And one of my favourite shots is above. This was taken in Daimon just when the sun had set just below the horizon and night was taking over with an illuminated Tokyo Tower off in the background. Tokyo may not have the huge mass of skyscrapers lining its skyline such as in New York City, Hong Kong or even my hometown of Toronto, but where the towers do congregate in areas like Daimon and Shinjuku, it still makes for a striking sight. Generally, although I never became a regular part of the night urban scene there, I often enjoyed walking through the bright lights and big city of the evening.
Having established my love of night scenes, I came across this album by crooner Yoshitaka Minami（南佳孝）, his 7th, titled "Seventh Avenue South" (September 1982) via my copy of "Japanese City Pop". I was immediately struck by the familiar picture of Edward Hopper's famous painting of "Nighthawks" on the cover. I would have loved to have been in that diner on the corner....not just for that burger and fries and a silver-cup strawberry shake, but also for that ambiance. I was wondering about the music on the album when I decided to take my chances on YouTube and see if I could find some tracks from "Seventh Avenue South".
I was lucky enough to find quite a few of the tracks there, and even luckier to try out the first track, "Cool", first. I was immediately hit with one of the coolest and bluesiest saxophone solos by David Sanborn....something so cool that I literally got chills. And then, Minami's velvety voice saw Sanborn's bluesiness and raised him 20. All this plus some fine metropolitan jazz from a past era. I automatically got reminded of a couple of other favourite albums of mine, Billy Joel's "The Stranger" from 1977 and Donald Fagen's "The Nightfly" of 1982, notably his jazz ballad of "Maxine". Right from the get-go, right then and there, I knew that I had to get the album.
But before I plunked down my credit card in front of the Amazon.jp gods, I wanted to further kick the tires, so to speak, via YouTube. I tried out "Scotch and Rain", which was composed by Minami and written by Takashi Matsumoto（松本隆）. In fact, most of the tracks were created by the pair. And once again, this track again reminded me of Joel and Fagen from their time in the late 70s and early 80s. Instead of the jazz of "Cool", "Scotch and Rain" has that mix of City Pop and Latin. One could be sipping the titular hard stuff in one of those rooftop bars in one of those Shinjuku towers or drinking down one of those bright cocktails with one of those paper umbrellas down by the beach while listening to this song.
"Natsu Fuku wo Kita Onna Tachi"（夏服を着た女たち...The Girls In Their Summer Dresses） is another wonderful fusion of jazz and City Pop fashioned as a light waltz. As Minami sings Track No. 4, he is probably at some swanky soiree, being a bit louche in a not-so-properly arranged tuxedo as he ogles those young women in their summer fare. Even he would admit that he doesn't stand a chance with the girls, but that doesn't mean he won't try.
"Tenmondai"（天文台...Observatory） kinda caught me as a rather odd title for a song, but once I got into the music and lyrics, I realized it made for a beautiful backdrop of a romantic memory. Not sure if Minami still had the girl in this one, but that trip to Palomar to search for stars and UFOs paid off in some dividends. According to the liner notes, there were a lot of instruments involved in this recording, but the one instrument that stood out was that innocent piano by Warren Bernhardt which accentuated the mood of that time for the stargazing couple. Since I am referring to a lot of Western songsmiths of the 80s here, I will say that the piano kinda reminded me of Joe Jackson from his "Night & Day" album, which also came out in 1982.
The final track on "Seventh Avenue South" is "Chat Noir". Minami took care of both the composing and writing duties on this one, and it's also very much a city-based tune but it stands out as being the only 80s rock track. With that guitar by Sid F. McGinnis and Larry Fast's Prophet-5, I got vague impressions, melodic ones anyways, of Glenn Frey & Don Henley from Eagles....not sure if they're still not speaking to each other. In any case, "Chat Noir" has that mysterious cautious edge just like that black cat on the prowl.
I knew Minami for the songs that I had already written about in this blog, songs that ranged from disco to 50s to technopop. But "Seventh Avenue South" has truly been a revelation for me. Overall, what I enjoyed about the album was that although the music was kept within that general framework of City Pop, Minami still managed to bring in little elements from other genres to make each of the 11 tracks fresh and interesting. And I can thank my lucky stars to a 1942 American painting.
|Perhaps a Tokyo version of "Nighthawks"?|
Nope, it's a little nomiya in Daimon.