Review: Although best known as the lead singer of well-regarded Japanese funk-soul band O.A.S.B, Amy Akaoka has long dreamed up recording a salsa album in the style of '60s and '70s pianist and bandleader Larry Harlow. This tasty two-track 7" single is her first release in the style - the album will appear later in the year - and is as summery, breezy and life affirming as you'd expect. She begins with "Tu Jamas", where male backing vocals, jaunty pianos and her own passionate lead vocal ride a sweat-soaked salsa rhythm. Turn to the B-side for the horn-heavy delight that is breezy salsa shuffler "Solo Tu Amor". Naturally, both are hugely authentic to the style of salsa championed by Harlow.
Review: Fela Kuti fans Jaribu Afrobeat Arkestra last came to our attention in 2014 via a fantastic sophomore set on Soul Garden. Here, the Japanese neo-Afrobeat combo returns to the same imprint with the first of two simultaneously released 7" singles. A-side "Eastern Comfort" is a typically jaunty and undulating affair, with bold, Fela-esque tenor sax motifs and delay-laden spoken work vocals dancing around Nigeria '70 guitars and loose, Tony Allen style drums. Flipside "Eko Ile" is an altogether more forthright and up-tempo affair whose rasping horns and JuJu guitars are slightly overshadowed by some elongated organ action.
Review: Four years on from their last outing, Japan's premier neo-Afrobeat band returns to the warm embrace of Soul Garden Records. A-side "Scarface" is arguably one of the band's most addictive and ear-pleasing tracks yet; a rousing Afrobeat workout that sees band members trading solos over a densely percussive, Fela Kuti style workout. In a bid to let us have a bit of a breather, flipside "This Day" is a more languid and laidback affair, with drunken trumpet solos and jammed-out keys relaxing over a shuffling, Afro-Latin groove. As ever, the playing is immaculate and the production authentically fuzzy. Worth a listen.
Review: Nu-wave afrobeat swingers, Jaribu Afrobeat Arkestra, touch back down on Masamichi Ishikawa's Soul Garden, and they have arrived just in time for what we hope to be a blazing hot summer of joyful Fela vibes. In fact, these guys have cited Kuti as their main inspiration - which is always a good thing, in our opinion - and the title track "Bomb" is clearly of that ilk, unleashing a driving bass surrounded by wild chanting and a little disco sensibility. On the flipside, "Panama" provides a deeper, cooler edge that's much more in line with Kuti's work alongside the Afrika 70 band, with booming horns guiding the jazzed-out percussion. LUSH!
Review: Congolese musician Kiala Nzavotunga is something of an unheralded hero of the Afrobeat scene. Since deciding to visit Nigeria in the early 1970s he's played with many legendary figures and bands, including Fela Kuti, and famously founded one Europe's first Afrobeat band, Ghettoblaster. Now based in Japan, Afroblaster is his latest musical endeavour, and this is the outfit's debut single. A-side "Sorrow, Tears & Blood" offers a contemporary update of the Fela Kuti/Africa '70 sound, with a straighter 4/4 rhythm that should appeal to disco and house fans as well as Afrobeat enthusiasts. On the flip, "Dear Blood" offers a more traditional take on the style, with Kiala's vocal riding punchy horns, flanged funk guitars and a Tony Allen style drumbeat.
Review: Having been a feature of Japan's revivalist funk scene since the mid-2000s, Q.A.S.B should be a familiar name to those who dig for dinked soul sevens. "Thinking of You" is their first single of 2017 and arrives a couple of months before the due date of the Q.A.S.B IV full-length. The title track, which resides on side A, is a superb piece of relaxed, summertime soul that increases in heaviness towards a sweltering, funk-fuelled conclusion. Turn to the flip for an alternative version in which male vocalist Hiro-A-Key joins the band's regular female singer to turn the track into a super-sweet duet rich in gently rising horns and sumptuous soul grooves.
Review: Long-serving Japanese band QASB tend to have two musical modes. Their releases are either sweet and soulful or funky and fulsome. This 7" definitely sits in the latter category. A-side "Get Down" is a cheery, up-tempo workout full of rising orchestration, bouncy disco-funk grooves, jazz-funk flourishes and a vocal from A Yu Mi urging us to shake our stuff on the floor. The party continues on the mostly instrumental flipside "Double Decker", a sumptuous, all-action affair full of sparring instrument solos, sweaty disco drum breaks and dreamy freestyle vocal improvisations. It reminded us a little of Pleasure's "Joyous", which is no bad thing.
Review: Japanese soul revivalists Q.A.S.B has been busy of late. This is their third single since July, a release rate that suggests their fourth full-length will soon be landing in stores. "Hold Me" sees them at their sunny, lazy and languid best, with A.Yu.Mi adding sultry vocals to a warm and groovy backing track rich in eyes-closed saxophone solos, clipped guitars and slowly rising horns. B-side "You Make Me Feel", an even more starry and sparkling cut with sweeter vocals and punchier horns, is almost as good as the A-side, especially when the jazzy electric piano solos drop in towards the end of the track. Proper "eyes-closed" material, all told.
Review: Fans of Osaka funk fusionists Stepak Takraw are spoilt this week with a deluge of musical goodness by the band arriving courtesy of Soul Garden. After spending an hour or so assessing the respective charms of these records from the crew, it's this Slugfest 7" that stands out in particular. Up top the title track pulls no punches, a slick lick of funk guitar riffage acting as the lead for the band to follow and lay down a taut, fast paced funk composition that leans on their well-honed talent for throwing cumbia elements into the mixer. "Yellow & Green" is there for those who prefer their funk to sound a bit more traditional.
Review: As a member of Stepak-Takraw, Yoichi Takeuch has spent much of his career crafting material heavily influenced by 1970s Afrobeat. On this debut solo single he takes a different approach, crafting warm, sun-kissed and blissful grooves with the benefit of what sounds like an MPC workstation. Check first A-side "Nightrunning", a dreamy and decidedly Balearic affair where chopped-up vocal snippets and guitar motifs rise above a hip-hop-goes-polyrhythmic groove. There's a slightly jazzier feel to flipside "Omo", whose slack, post Tony Allen drum break is layered with chanted childrens' vocals, sun-bright guitar flourishes and toasty, head-in-the-clouds chords. It's hard to describe, but really rather good.