Miyasaka + 5 ‘Animals Garden’ 2LP/CD (BBE Music) 4/5

Originally recorded in 1979 on the iconic Tokyo based label, ALM, ‘Animals Garden’ was recorded as a one-off project led by master drummer Takashi ‘Bear’ Miyasaka featuring Hiroshi Itaya on trombone, Tsugaki Hiromichi on piano, Genji Sawai on both soprano and tenor, Koiche Matsukaze on alto and tenor.

Since its release back in 1979, the album has become a real collector’s piece, demanding hefty prices for a mint copy. Under the direction of the label founder Yukio Kojima and his visionary approach, the album nestled amongst other important works for the record label within the Kojima studio set up. Together with his avant-garde parent label ALM-Uranoia, Yukio Kojima managed to attract many respected Japanese jazz musicians and although the jazz side of the label wasn’t so extensive, it aired a similar approach to the outlook that great labels such as Nimbus West, Strata-East or ESP Disk imbued with their collective spirit and input. This superb project features four solid pieces all composed by the leader with exceptional playing throughout the session.

The title track ‘Animals Garden’ was selected for inclusion on the J Jazz volume 2 compilation; an excellent documentation of Japanese jazz from a particular period of Japanese jazz put together by Tony Higgins and Mike Peven. ‘Animals Garden’ is the fourth album to be reissued off the back of the J-Jazz Masterclass compilation series, following the Takeo Moriyama album ‘East Plants’, the Koichi Matsukaze Trio + Toshiyuki Daitok album ‘Earth Mother’ and the Tohru Aizawa Quartet album ‘Tachibana Vol. 1’. Check the bizarre story behind the Tachibana album on the following link. The album doubled up as a business card.

Selected by Tony Higgins and Mike Peven, ‘Animals Garden’ is immaculately packaged and lovingly restored with the greatest attention towards the sound quality and presentation. It’s quite evident that both compilers share an extensive knowledge of the more collectable Japanese Jazz works and their focus on a particular time frame makes for an intriguing insight of this particular period of transition and the musicians that were such a big part of the movement in Japan.

The album features four compositions by Takashi ‘Bear’ Miyasaka. With most pieces exceeding the 10-minute mark; ample room is given for the leader and his fellow musicians to stretch out, adding a more spacious feel throughout the sets. It’s an all-round performance of the highest quality.

As well as the brilliant modal title track that featured on the 2nd volume of the J-Jazz compilation, the album includes three other strong tracks that bring the whole package together really well. ‘Ballard For Mammoth’ is a warm laid back 14-minute composition with trombonist Hirioshi Itaya setting the mood whilst creating space for pianist Tsugaki Hiromichi’s sparse touches of harmonic beauty and delicate runs.

‘Pecker’s Blues’ is an uptempo piece with some special sharp playing by Koichi Matsukaze whilst trombonist Hiroshi Itaya adds a staccato approach which was slightly reminiscent of JJ Johnson.

Koichi Matsukaze is a Japanese jazz saxophonist and flautist deservedly back in the spotlight after some interesting compilations from the Jazzman label and BBE Music focused attention towards his and other contributions to the developments of jazz in Japan during an important transitional period between the mid-1970s and the early 1980s​. ‘Under Construction’ and ‘Earth Mother’ were just two Koichi Matsukaze pieces that featured on compilations and his contribution on this superb album follows his aforementioned trio album reissue for BBE in 2018.

This rare album is a welcome reissue that is top quality throughout the album’s four exceptional tracks.

Mark Jones