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I take it back, gladly

by Steve McClure

When writing recently about Seiji Ozawa’s very successful “New Year’s Concert 2002″ album, I made a passing reference to his “nasally voiced” nephew, Kenji Ozawa.

Well, I take it all back. Kenji has just released one of the most interesting J-pop albums of the year so far. Titled “Eclectic,” it was recorded at New York’s famed Hit Factory with American studio musicians. Ozawa (who also produced the album) has gone for an understated, subtle approach which is full of deep grooves and beautiful melodies that steadily grow on you with repeated listenings. And his voice, which is well down in the mix, seems to have dropped a register or two. Very impressive.

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Another great J-pop album that I’ve been meaning to plug here is “Super Carroty” by two-person “unit” Nash, who are signed to LD&K Records, one of Japan’s coolest indie record companies. Like The Cymbals (who used to be signed to LD&K before moving to major label Victor), Nash are heavily influenced by ’60s rock but have a heavier, gutsier sound.

Nash’s members are songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Morihiro Naoi and female vocalist Numb, who explains that “Numb” is a childhood nickname based on her real name, Nami. I asked her what the band’s name means, and she promptly replied, “Imi nashi (There’s no meaning).” I laughed until I stopped. What a zany gal.

Noteworthy tracks on “Super Carroty,” Nash’s first full-length album, include “Your Place to Feel Secure,” which owes a large debt to the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the Man,” and the extraordinarily beautiful ballad “Oimoide Shisshu (Poem of Memory).”

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Meanwhile, rock band Straightener, who are signed to LD&K label Run Run Run Records, on April 5 will release their third mini-album, “Skeletonized,” which further strengthens Straightener’s status as a Band to Watch. For me, the killer track on “Skeletonized” is “Hashiru Iwa (Running Stone),” a driving, passionate rocker with a melody that has a distinct minyo (Japanese folk song) flavor.

Straightener’s next Tokyo gig is on May 2 at Shimokitazawa Shelter.

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Tokyo Bibimbap Club, one of my all-time favorite local bands, has reunited after taking a three-year break. The band was originally formed back in 1991 by guitarist/producer Hirofumi “Hachi” Kasuga (formerly of the legendary rock band Carmen Maki and Oz), vocalist/percussionist Byun Inja, guitarist/vocalist Pak Poe, bassist Nobuyoshi Teraoka and drummer Jess Oh.

What made TBC special was their unique blend of Japanese and Korean musical influences and the very dynamic interplay between Kasuga (one of best electric guitarists I’ve ever heard), Byun (who looked like a drumming dervish as she pounded the hand-held Korean changoo drum while spinning about) and Poe, a powerful, impassioned singer.

TBC were always a fantastically great live band, but their one and only album, “Tokyo Bibimbap Club,” showed they could cut it in the studio as well.

The band fell apart after Oh’s untimely death from cancer, Pak’s departure to start his own band and Byun’s move to the States.

Kasuga continued studying Korean music and culture, and when Byun recently returned to Japan, she, Kasuga and Teraoka decided to put together TBC Mark II with drummer Takanobu Kimura.

Kasuga tells me the band have been writing lots of new material and hope to release another album sometime this year. In the meantime, check out TBC’s live show at Club Que in Shimokitazawa on March 22.

For more information, call Club Que at (03) 3412-9979 or check out the TBC Web site at www.toratanu.co.jp

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I know this may be hard to believe, but I made a mistake in my recent item about Avex’s introduction of copy-protected CDs. Contrary to what I wrote, these CDs will be playable on most Windows personal computers (but not on Macs). However, you won’t be able to record music contained on Avex’s copy-protected CDs onto computer hard disks or blank CD-Rs or as MP3 files.

The Japanese music industry is now sounding the alarm about the threat posed by illegal copying onto CD-Rs. A survey conducted by the Recording Industry Association of Japan in the first two weeks of October found that 24 percent of those polled had recorded music onto CD-Rs, up from 15 percent a year earlier. But Avex Chairman Tom Yoda tells me that rate may now be as high as 30 percent.

Listen to Steve McClure’s radio program, “Beyond the Charts,” which brings you the best in new alternative Japanese music, Sunday at 4 a.m. on 76.1 InterFM. Amateur/unsigned musicians are asked to send demos to Steve at InterFM, 4-5-4 Shibaura, Minato-ku 108-8070. Each week, two demos are broadcast on the program’s “Great Hunting” segment.