The Poseidon label is one of Japan’s busiest, if not the busiest, prog-rock labels, with an ever-increasing catalog that covers the full range of progressive styles. The Vital imprint is a sub-label devoted to somewhat rawer, rougher sounds. Poseidon has released a number of albums in conjunction with Musea, France’s well-known purveyor of prog, so these albums should be easily available in Europe as well as elsewhere.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not hugely knowledgeable about prog, and I tend to go for the heavier, noisier, less technically-focused styles. Thus, my favorites from this selection of Poseidon releases should be noted with that in mind, in case your taste differs.
First up is two albums from F.H.C., an unusual trio playing Chapman Stick, keyboards, and contrabass. Triangulate conveys dark atmospheres with a bit of focus on the keyboards, kind of like a soundtrack to an Edgar Allen Poe story, or music from a carnival of dubious repute. One locus which consists of three fragments is more aggressive prog, also a bit more predictable. The album collects material from 2000-2002, with three different lineups, so some songs include violin, banjo, and guitar. Unfortunately, the recording quality is rather tinny, so some energy gets lost in translation. Listen to “Jugular” by F.H.C. from Triangulate
Round House’s 3-D is pretty traditional prog, with some slower, pretty songs that are frankly too well-mannered for me. It’s unusual to find a prog group with programmed drums, but Round House are mostly about Masayuki Kato’s slick guitar and Soura Ishikawa’s keyboards. Ultimately it comes off a bit too much on the New Age side for me.
Cherno are a hard-hitting, rather unexpected duo. On Complicity Vision and Missing Illusion Sugawara Shin (alto sax and wind synth) and Kishimoto Junichi (guitar and programming) offer steady programmed rhythms with heavy guitar ranging from blazing leads to thick metal-style riffs, with Shin’s saxophone over the riffing. An interesting group, if not my speed due to my being allergic to saxophone. Listen to “ZappingTV” by Cherno from Complicity Vision
The quartet Free Love are more my thing. Official Bootleg Vol. 1, Concert 2005 Sapporo contains four long tracks led by vocalist/guitarist Hiroaki Shibata, whose guitar soars through majestic keyboards by Hiroki Matsui and the heavy rhythm section of bassist Yuji Hayakawa and drummer Atsushi Motohashi. This is mostly prog on the heavy-psych side of things, though “Maze of Psycho” gets more into a riff-rock binge with prog trappings, not that far afield from late-model YBO2 or, oddly enough, Deep Purple’s most out-there excursions. Listen to “Long Way to Kashmir” by Free Love from Concert 2005 Sapporo
I’d heard one earlier album by Djamra and found it to be an interestingly dirty sort of jazz-prog. On Transplantation they get somewhat funkified. The quartet is bass, drums, alto sax and trumpet, and it’s all about rhythmic interplay amongst the four of them. Not being a big fan of brass this one’s not quite my thing, but I can say that the rhythms are really good and strong, even when they get into slap-bass funk styles a bit too much for my taste. Listen to “Neo Skin” by Djamra from Transplantation
A solo project of keyboardist Satoshi Murata, Renga’s Penetration is one long half-hour piece of calm, quiet piano and synth work, like a meditative nocturne. Something for when you’re looking for some inner and outer peace.
Despite the confusing name, Trio96/Duo are a duo: Ishikawa Kenji on guitar and Tanaka Yasuhiro on drums (with both on synth versions of their instruments as well). Duo’03 ranges from Crimsonesque voyages to stop-start technical improvisations. Listen to “Curriculum” by Trio96 from Duo’03
Flat122’s The Waves is old-style classical-inspired prog, heavy on keyboards by Takao Kawasaki. The music is often stately in a vaguely ELPish way, but not as overblown. Nice guitar from Satoshi Hirata, and steady drums from Kiyotaka Tanabe.
The self-titled CD by East Wind Pot, a four-piece with bass and drums, keyboards and woodwinds, is pretty laid-back prog, rather too sterile for me. It’s filled with abstract time changes and carefully syncopated playing, but all too controlled and sedate. There is some pretty stuff here, though, for those into this style.
The Empire of Necromancers by Ring is a re-issue of a live show recorded in 1975, with some cool fantasy-based fusionesque prog (song titles include “The White Sybil” and “The Desolation of Soom”). The CD tacks on two extra tracks from the associated group Kokubo Synthesizer Works, recorded in 1977/78. These songs get into some pretty strong grooves at times, a la bands from across the ocean like Krokodil and Group 1850. But a fair amount of it is pretty calm and quiet, as well. The vocals, when they appear, are slightly reminiscent of ELP, but not in a bad way. I enjoyed this one. Listen to “The Desolation of Soom” by Ring from The Empire of Necromancers