Within an hour of meeting eachother, Takashi Hirayasu and Bob Brozman were sowing the seeds for this album; working out chords, trying out combinations of instruments, furtively glancing at eachother for encouragement. Would it work? Would they like eachother, let alone be able to make decent music together? There was a tangible tension in the air. If not created by the musicians, then by us; the handful of staff and selected onlookers.
They had hardly had time to exchange more than a cursory greeting at the airport on the small Okinawan island of Ishigaki, before rushing to catch the boat for the 10 minute trip to the much smaller island of Taketomi. Now, it was as if the moment of truth had come. Any doubts, any fears, soon evaporated into the cool night air. Smiles broke out that got increasingly wider over the following four days. The two musicians ignited a spark in eachother. A feeling of deep mutual respect grew, and a genuine personal affinity and understanding of eachother, communicated through the universal language of music.
This album was recorded in a small, traditional wooden house on Taketomi, the most unspoilt of the Ryukyu islands of Okinawa, in the deep south of Japan. As flat as a pancake, there are only 200 inhabitants and no paved roads. Just a maze of narrow sandy streets in the centre that spread out in all directions towards the sea, stunningly turquoise even on the mainly cloudy winter days we were there. Recording equipment was shipped in from Tokyo, and microphones set up on the straw matting of the house’s single room, that also doubled as our dining room and bedroom. The location had been chosen to enable the musicians to immerse themselves entirely in an Okinawan island atmosphere with little distractions; except the occasional dog bark, cat fight or crow caw (captured on one song, but left in for effect).
Most songs were recorded in one or two takes, Bob and Takashi playing together live with only minimal overdubbing added for extra ornamentation. The process would go something like this; Takashi would teach Bob the chords, the two would experiment for about half an hour with different instruments and work out an arrangement, Takashi would convey the general meaning of the lyrics and the feel of the song. Then they would record, and after we would all listen to the playback. Sometimes we would be grinning the whole way through, ‘it’s like magic!’ Takashi would exclaim. On the heartbreakingly beautiful ballads, a hush would descend over us, the two musicians driven to tears on a few occasions.
Although both artists have strong and unique styles and personalities, it became increasingly clear over the week that their ideas and beliefs in music converge in several ways. Perhaps no other Okinawan musician would have been up for this challenge. Although paying a healthy respect to traditional Okinawan music, Takashi’s mind is equally open to rock, reggae, African, Indian and Caribbean music. He helped to bring these influences into some of the groundbreaking music of Shokichi Kina, during his time as guitarist with Kina’s band, Champloose. What can you say about Bob, and his enormous capacity to digest and absorb music? Perhaps if it was discovered music existed in another universe, Bob would be the Planet Earth’s representative for an inter-planetary collaboration. He doesn’t just listen to the music, but watches and observes every muscle in his playing partner; the way he breathes and reacts.
Hopefully this album conveys the general atmosphere of fun that was had by all involved. Gradually, everyone could understand Bob’s wicked sense of humour, and his Japanese came on leaps and bounds. By the end he was the one shouting ‘torimasu!’ (recording) before each take. We were all surprised by Takashi’s English, some of it taken straight out of a Hollywood movie. Special mention should made, for keeping a sense of joviality, of Kenichi Takahashi of Respect Records. His English had us all in stitches, his endearing vulnerability mixed with honesty earning him the nickname of the ‘Japanese Woody Allen’. As he said, “I happy You happy, everybody happy! EVERYBODY HAPPY MAKES GOOD RECORD! ” And so it proved.