[RIP] Uku Kuut – Santa Monica, 2006

I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of musician and producer Uku Kuut on September 22nd at the age of 51. Kuut was the son of Marju Kuut (aka Maryn E. Coote), a prolific Swedish-Estonian jazz singer, and while the two had important solo careers in their own right, they shared a long and fruitful collaboration, including a record that they made together. Quite a few tracks in this collection feature contributions from his mother by way of flute, vocals, keys, and co-writing credits. I don’t know exactly when these songs were recorded, but I know that at least some of them were made between 1982 and 1989.

Santa Monica is a showcase of Kuut’s brilliant breed of quirky and atmospheric electronic jazz-funk. Given his propensity for generating work in response to locations, it also feels like a moving tribute to a city in which he lived for many years (while also including a few nods to Estonia and Sweden).

Out of respect for his family, I’ll be removing the download link in a few days. Though I always encourage you to buy records that you love, in this instance there are a couple useful ways to support the artist. You can purchase Santa Monica from CDBaby below; you can purchase Maryn E. Coote’s excellent collection Maskeraad via PPU here, with proceeds going towards ALS research; or you can make a direct donation in Uku Kuut’s name to the ALS Association here. Thank you for everything, Uku–you will be missed.

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Haruomi Hosono, Shigeru Suzuki & Tatsuro Yamashita – Pacific, 1978

A classic. While Hosono needs no introduction around here, I’m realizing that Tatsuro Yamashita has perhaps not been given enough air time. For the unfamiliar, Yamashita is iconic in his own right, not just because of his classic Japanese Christmas favorite “Christmas Eve” or his enormous output but also because of his signature early-80’s take on a wall-of-sound expansiveness crossed with a deep love for the Beach Boys, relentlessly clever songwriting, and of course, mirror-polished synth programming. Shigeru Suzuki is perhaps best known for his work with Happy End and Tin Pan Alley, and is also a wildly prolific session musician, who’s contributed to over 588 recordings as of 2006.

Which brings us to Pacific, for which each track was composed by one of the above three. It also includes plenty of of contributions from–you guessed it–Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi. Though YMO’s self-titled debut was also released in 1978, from what I understand Pacific came first, and feels very akin to much of the exotica and fusion that Hosono had already been fixated on across several projects. Still, Pacific is clearly the product of a handful of masterminds having fun together: its unabashed tropical nostalgia acts as a jumping off point for flitting between genres (lounge, funk, disco, rhumba, smooth jazz, Latin fusion, synth pop), all delivered in full-color with jaunty, winking songwriting.

Even with vaporwave and its kitsch-scraping genre contemporaries behind us, Pacific holds up as well as ever. It’s only in closer “Cosmic Surfin'” that we get a taste of the more hard-edged, crunchy electro that became YMO’s signature sound, and fittingly, a different version of the song went on to appear on YMO’s debut the same year. I highly recommend listening to this as much as possible before fall rolls around.

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David Astri – Do It Right, 1983

Very mysterious record! The only release from Baltimore artist David Astri, and also the only release (I think) from PCM Records. Rereleased (I think) in 2014 on now-defunct Award Records, and not much information available about any of it.
This is essentially a boogie funk record, and for fans of the genre, it doesn’t get much better than “Get Down To It” and “Do It Right” (RIYL George Benson, RAH Band, etc.). The song that I immediately fell in love with, and has since wound up on an embarrassing number of mixes that I’ve made, is “Safe and Sound,” which sort of reads like a slow funk ballad, but between the inadvertently creepy lyrics delivered with saccharine little girl breathiness, the unexpected moments of warped dissonance, the impeccable percussion details, and the oddly muffled production, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard. The seven minute closer, “Dancing Digits,” is an ecstatic instrumental disco stomper, but with what sounds an awful lot like an acid house synth line riding on top. Oh, there’s also a five minute tropical steel drum interlude that sounds like it could score a ride at Disneyland. In a good way, sort of.

I really, really wish this record were 15 minutes longer. And speaking of, apparently there are four unreleased tracks floating around from these sessions–if anyone has them, I’d really love to hear, will bake you cookies, etc.

Harry Case – In A Mood, 1989

An untouchable album from outsider American guitarist Harry Case. Clever drum machine programming and synth lines, effortless smooth jazz guitar, and a breezy, new age sensibility. Each song is uniquely crafted, hitting a funky hotel lobby samba on “Midnight Samba” and classical guitar/synth reggae on the album’s moody title track. “Chasing The Goon” and “Jam (At Your Party)” are high tempo party tracks where Case’s jazz guitar and drumming are in full force. The percussive new age-y “Native Drums” is reminiscent of Wally Badarou’s Echoes.

“Carry Me Home” (lyrics and song below) simultaneously gives me the chills and makes me smile, as it feels like the most positive song ever written. Just wish it were a bit longer..
I see the way to carry me home 
I see the way to home
Sometimes I am lost in sin I can’t find the power deep with me.
(I see the way to home)
I raise my voice up to the sky and things get better by and by.
(I see the way to home)
Don’t you know that I 
I see the way to carry me home 
I see the way to home
So don’t give up if you feel pain cause nothing ever stays the same
(I see the way to home)
If you think things are at an end, just turn around and start again.

I hope this album will be on lifelong rotation for you and yours. Many thanks to Contain Yr Brain for the tip. A perfect 10!

Il Guardiano del Faro – Domani, 1977

Il Guardiano del Faro (“the lighthouse keeper”), aka Federico Monti Arduini, was a very prolific Italian musician, composer, and producer who was credited as an early adopter of the Moog synthesizer. Despite having had a slew of best-selling songs in Italy, there’s very little information available about him on the internet–I don’t even remember how this wound up in my hands! Really smart orchestral sensibility applied to lush, synthetic space-age smooth jazz fusion. Ideal cheeky retro-futurist bachelor pad soundtrack. Don’t miss the syrupy quivering cover of “I Only Have Eyes for You.”

Yoshio Suzuki – Morning Picture, 1984

This peaceful ambient jazz album from 1984 features the excellent taste of bassist and keyboardist Yoshio Suzuki. He steers away from showy musicianship, instead leaning towards sparsity. The drum machine and synthesizer programming lend momentum but leave plenty unsaid so your mind can wander, filling in the gaps and coming to your own conclusions.
Please share this wonderfully listenable album with friends and family as you gather this week. I’m hoping that it will promote clear and honest communication and pacify any familial angst that may arise during the holiday season.

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Seaside Lovers – Memories In Beach House, 1983

Today is a celebration of internet access to amazing things. This one-off collaboration of chiller-musical-god Hiroshi Sato and the relatively unknowns Akira Inoue and Masataka Matsutoya — appropriately called “Seaside Lovers” — is some of the most succulent fruit of this access. It’s a trophy of Youtube’s intercontinental ubiquity, and these three musicians are pressing all the right beachy chilltime buttons in all the right ways. Soothing flute, funky bass riffs, and sweeping synths, all saturated in reverb.
On the flip side, this is one of the rare times where we’ll post an album with a few questionable tracks. The majority of the album is ridiculously listenable, especially the new age/funky soul/smooth jazz tracks, but there are 2 or 3 that require a very specific mood. If you are a jazz fusion fan, though, you will be PSYCHED. Plus, just look at this album cover! Below is their most famous track, but download to hear so much more…