Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"three taste strings"...




i was lucky enough to purchase a little stack of japanese 78's at the flea market on sunday. they were mostly in pretty lousy condition (one has some incredibly beautiful spirograph looking needle marks all over the surface, which is nice on one hand but unplayable on the other...). most were in the wrong sleeves, but the sleeve designs are so beautiful i was glad to get them too. (if you click on the photos you can see them bigger). fortunately enough of them sound ok, and a few are definite gems.

i don't even know where to begin with on this one other than to say it is completely amazing... and most definitely strange. it's on the nitto electric recording label. the music could best be described as a kind 20's dancehall band, a bit like what you'd hear in the lounge of a transatlantic ocean liner. both sides do say "dance music" on them, although the music is a bit slower than a charleston. the music was arranged and conducted by masao shinhara, and the group is called NO gakudan (which translates as "music group NO"). the whole thing would be relatively ordinary, except that along with all the brass is a shamisen! (for those of you unfamiliar with the instrument, it's got three strings, a long neck, and a squarish body covered in a skin like a banjo head. the sound is kind of like a banjo strung with acoustic guitar strings and plucked ). according to the web, the word shamisen in japanese literally means "three taste strings".

side B, listed as a rhumba, is titled "sanju sangendo" (which is a temple in kyoto with 1001 statues of kanon inside), is a nice little ditty that has the shamisen plucking along at times, part solo and part melody, and it kind of sounds a little like a drunk guy playing along at home. according to the web, there are times when the word shamisen is pronounced jamisen, and while i don't know enough about when this might happen, i'm pretty sure, based on what the musician is playing, this is definitely a jam-isen moment.

side A, listed as a blues, is titled "shin uchi nagashi". this one the takes the combination of western brass and eastern string even further. in the middle and at the end of the song, the entire orchestra lays out for a shamisen solo, accompanied by something that sounds a little like the whistles you add water to, that sound like bird calls. the solo and "bird call whistle" at the end is so unbelievably beautiful, it completely kills me... it's probably my favorite 78 moment in my entire collection...

side A: "shin uchi nagashi"
side B: "sanju sangendo"

the sleeve is from kanariya records, which means canary records in japanese, and the sleeve says that kanariya records are soft, so if you use a regular needle you'll damage the record... so you'd better use a kanariya needles or another brand with a rounded tip... the good news is that unlike regular 78's and needles, if you use a rounded one and only play kanariya records you can also use the needle 54 times... unfortunately i didn't get any kanariya records in the lot...


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