The Space funk, jazz and disco sound of genius japanese producer Yuji Ohno. A selection – the first outside of Japan – made in collaboration with Nippon Columbia and Yuji Ohno himself. Remastered audio and liner notes by Nick Luscombe in conversation with Ohno
Yuji Ohno’s blend of Jazz, Space Funk and Disco have long been highly sought-after by DJs around the world and WWS has been given unique access to the Nippon Columbia vaults and to Mr. Ohno himself to come with a versatile selection from his 70s body of work, all bearing his uniquely recognisable sound. The set includes works with singers Nanako Sato, Hatsumi Shibata and Ken Tanaka alongside tracks from his cult anime soundtracks for “Lupin III” and “Captain Future.” Approved by Yuji Ohno himself, “Touch” was remastered in Tokyo by Nippon Columbia and features liner notes by Nick Luscombe in conversation with the maestro and artwork by Optigram’s Manuel Sepulveda.
Born in Atami in 1941, Yuji Ohno started learning the piano at a young age and formed his own band during his teenage years, getting into Jazz in the process. After high school, he entered the prestigious Keio University in Tokyo and played in the revered university big band alongside two other pianists, Masahiko Sato and Hirosama Suzuki, who would have an illustrious career in their own right. After University, Ohno became a professional musician and started playing with the new wave of Japanese Jazz musicians forming his own trio and recording with the likes of Hideo Shiraki, Terumasa Hino and Masahiko Togashi from 1967 onwards.
At the turn of the 60s, Ohno started to veer away from the Jazz scene as he realised, as told to Nick Luscombe that “the jazz music being played by the Japanese at the time was only chasing the cutting edge, and was ignoring the roots and origins of jazz.” Ohno therefore shifted his efforts to film and TV and also to producing artists for various Japanese labels, becoming one of the most in-demand composers, arrangers and producers in Japan. This is when Ohno developed his unique sound across a wide variety of styles. More than anything else, he got renowned for his anime soundtracks, particularly with the Lupin III series – represented here by the superbly funky “Silhouette” – which made his fame in Japan
Whether it’s jazz, funk, disco or Pop, the “Ohno Sound” is unmissable both in terms of melodies and arrangements, on a par with those of such legends as Quincy Jones and Michel Legrand. Ohno’s melodies are sophisticated yet accessible and there’s a great sense of space in his productions especially when it comes to slow-burning grooves as heard on “Kirameku Inner Space” from the cult anime soundtrack “Captain Future” or “The Soaring Seagull” from the sought-after 1975 album “Electro Keyboard Orchestra.” This album was recorded with seven fellow musicians including Kentaro Haneda and Ohno’s old friend, Masahiko Sato and using twenty Korg synths to create a unique blend of futuristic jazz funk. “The Soaring Seagull” could be the perfect embodiment of Ohno’s signature sound when it comes to instrumentals. The producer was however equally at ease with producing lush disco extravaganzas such as “Subterranean Futari Botchi” by Nanako Sato or “I Wish You Love” by Hatsumi Shibata, a revamp of Charles Trenet classic, both colourful and glitzy.
Ohno’s versatility is on display here with a couple of jazz vocal tracks, “Speak Low” by Ann Young accompanied by the Yuji Ohno Trio and Mieko Hirota’s fast and furious “I Want to Be Happy” while he also excelled at crafting gorgeous mellow songs such as Ken Tanaka’s “Lilac-gai No Aki” and Hatsumi Shibata’s “Mouichido Kikasete” closing the selection on a perfect note. “Touch” is just a tiny selection from Yuji Ohno’s immense body of work and it will hopefully open the ears of Japanese music lovers to one of the most important musician, producer and arrangers of his generation.