(Not so) festive greetings to you all from a very, very damp and grey North of England. Sadly, festive fun is in short supply round here at the moment, as we are once again experiencing a seemingly never-ending deluge of water from the skies, with severe flood warnings in place across the whole of my local area; so……as heading out is not currently an option, I thought I would try and get into the whole ‘end of year’ spirit by indulging in a bit of introspection. As we all start looking ahead to what 2016 will bring, people of great (and little) renown all over the world, are publishing their ‘best of’ lists of the last 12 months. I always enjoy reading them, as they can point me in the direction of music, art, books and films I may have otherwise missed out on. ….which is always good.
I am sure you will be pleased to know that, despite appearances to the contrary, I do not live my life solely in a Japan/Jansen bubble. However I am aware that the reason you read this blog is because it carries the name of that certain musician, so whilst there has been plenty of stuff going on in my world which has feck all connection to Steve or his band of effeminate futurists from the 1980s ™, I shall limit my choices here to music which, in some way, shape or form is relevant to this blog. In the spirit of 6 degrees of separation, I shall endeavour to expose any link I can think of – mainly because I have a lot of time on my hands right now, and not much else to do.
However, my ‘best of’ list doesn’t necessarily include things which were released in 2015 but may well be something which has been around for ages, but that I heard for the first time this year.
My blog, my rules.
2015 has been a stellar year of lovely music for me and my ears. And when I say ‘stellar’ I am referring to the actual meaning of that word, with the release of the amazingly beautiful ALMA Music Box project ‘music from a dying star’ – a crowd-funded release, this involved one of the most convoluted attempts ever to hand my money over in exchange for the promise of music, when I had to navigate the stormy waters of a Japanese language website to make my pledge. Even when we were provided with a handy ‘do-it-yourself’ Japanese-to-English pdf (via Steve’s website) it still had me pretty much stumped! However, I persevered (along with a few other hardy non-native Japanese speakers) and was rewarded with the knowledge that the project was finally funded – and it produced the album of the year for me. Using the same basic notes (which were taken from data recorded by a mega radio telescope situated in the Atacama desert in Northern Chile), all the artists then weaved the samples into a broad range of music. Obviously, I was initially interested in the project because of Steve’s contribution, but I was blown away by the whole thing. There are a couple of tracks which I skip but otherwise, it is a truly remarkable collection of sounds. Steve’s track, the exquisite ‘the blossoms close at sunset’, includes one of those ‘hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck’ moments when the percussion kicks in around 4 minutes in…….I recommend driving through the Howgills (or insert your own local dramatic landscape reference here) on a bright, crisp autumn day, with this playing loudly in the car; it is a truly wonderful way to hear it. (Jansen link…….Steve is on this. Easy)
My other musical highlight of the year was the release of the phenomenal ‘motorcade amnesiacs’ by the wondrous Sweet Billy Pilgrim. This was another crowd-funded project that I was more than happy to chuck my hard-earned £££s at – and not only did it result in an incredibly emotive and fantastic collection of songs, there was also a ‘patrons only’ gig in London in April, where the band played the songs for the first time, to a bunch of eager (and rather squiffy) bunch of reprobates, all delighting in the new material and Tim’s hilarious on-stage banter. If you do not own this album, you need to beg, steal or borrow a copy (although it is probably much easier to just buy it, to be honest) as you are missing out on some of the most creatively beautiful music your ears will ever hear. Just try not to lose your copy in a carpark in Barrow-in-Furness, like I did. (Jansen link – this one is also a bit bloody obvious but for those who aren’t aware; Tim Elsenburg collaborated with Steve on ‘sleepyard’, toured Japan with him in 2006 and (massive cheer from me for this….) has recently recorded with him again for his new album)
Another album which brought me great joy this year was the impressive ‘alexandrine’ by Grice. One of the things I love about the collaborations Steve does with other artists, is the fact it introduces me to music I may otherwise have never heard. I don’t always like what I hear, obviously, but when I do and it is as wonderful as this, then it makes me truly happy. For those people unaware of this release, it includes a fantastic array musicians including Steve and Rich, Al Swainger and 05Ric. It is a swirling mass of beautiful sounds, (especially the luscious ‘incomplete’ and ‘leftside’) which really appeals to the old goth who still resides deep within me. Just lovely. (Jansen link – Steve contributes percussion, ‘treatments and tonalities’. No idea what that means, but it is lovely. Oh, and Rich B also features. Bonus!)
The way that we buy (and listen to) music has changed dramatically over the last few years, and not for the better, in most cases. The rise of streaming channels such as Spotify may give listeners more access to a wider range of music, but it is truly damaging financially for the recording artists, who make an absolute pittance in royalties from such ‘services’. Literally pennies. The advent of crowd-funding/pledging has helped many smaller artists to continue to produce their music and keep their heads above water. I currently support a number of musicians this way, and the payback is knowing that each time they release material, my small contribution has been a positive factor in this. One person I have recently ‘subscribed to’ is Steve Lawson – a frighteningly prolific producer of material (so much so, I fear I may need a 2nd pair of ears to actually get around to listening to everything he has released) and so I have spent much of the last few months dipping into his enormous back catalogue of solo-bass exquisiteness. My current favourites are the beautiful album he released many moons ago with Theo Travis, ‘for the love of open spaces’ and the rather seasonally appropriate ‘winter song’ which is full of funky jazz sounds (but not jazz funk sounds; a subtle but very important difference!) and was recorded alongside Andy Edwards and Bryan Corbett. Do yourself a favour and check him out. (Jansen link – less obvious this one. Both Steves appeared on Luca Formentini’s ‘Tacet’ album in 2007, although not on the same track)
Alongside all this lovely new music, 2015 saw the re-release of material from the ex-Japan members, courtesy of KScope/Burning Shed. Seeing many of Mick Karn‘s albums released on vinyl, beautifully packaged and on heavy weight vinyl, has filled a gaping chasm which many fans had been feeling for years. The advent of all these new vinyl releases gave me cause to go out and buy a new record player, and so I also re-discovered the joy of listening to all my old vinyl, which had been packed away for years. Ace.
Other 2015 delights included: a repackaged and re-mastered ‘stone to flesh’ with a brand new Jansen/Barbieri composition ‘map of falling’, which caused many a middle-aged heart to flutter at the thought of further J/B collaborations. Earlier in the year, we had been treated to the release of the ONLY Jansen/Barbieri live concert (how is it even possible that they only played ONE gig????) in the form of the wondrous ‘lumen’ on vinyl – with the promise of a CD version in early 2016 and another new track in the form of a ‘crossing the border‘, a recently re-discovered track from the ‘stories across borders‘ sessions.
2015 also saw the digital release of ‘kinoapparatom‘, which included three new Jansen tracks; the beautiful ‘ballerina‘ (which reminds me of an old music box I had as a child), ‘mirror’, and the hauntingly hypnotic ‘machineroom‘.
Alongside all this amazing music, 2015 also saw the release of Steve’s book of photography, ‘through a quiet window’ and Anthony Reynolds’ biography, ‘japan – a foreign place’. If you have missed the umpteen posts on this blog where we cover these in detail, feel free to browse away, for we have run out of room here.
So, it is just left for me to thank you all for your continued support and to wish you a very healthy and happy 2016. Oh, and if things go as planned, here’s to 2016 being the year we finally get our grubby mitts on Mr Jansen’s latest solo album…..we can but hope.