Akira Ishikawa & The Count Buffalos - African Rock. 1971 Japan
CD reissue: 2015 Clinck
Release details: Originals are stored in a single sleeve jacket and are pretty much extinct. This album is still just being discovered for the first time by worldwide collectors. In what has to be considered record time, the CDRWL alerted the world of the album in April, and by July we had a 100% legit reissue coming out of Japan! Coincidence? Maybe, though The AC informs us (he is fluent in Japanese) that there were hints of influence from us there. That's enough to keep us going anyway! I bought the CD from an ebay dealer based in Japan, and it isn't cheap (figure $30 including postage). I've seen the album for sale on Amazon.jp and cdjapan.co.jp. I fully expected Dusty Groove to bring this one in, as the music is right in their wheelhouse. But so far, it appears they are unaware of the title. As you can see below, I lived up to my word of being a first day buyer!
Notes: This is not my first run in with Akira Ishikawa & His Count Buffalos, as Shadoks reissued their (next?) album Uganda (1972) on LP and Tiliqua followed up with a CD reissue a couple of years after that (mentioned in the AC's notes as well). I found the album a disappointment, as it was primarily African percussion with a few cool Mizutani freakouts, but honestly it sounded as a late addition, and didn't fit the album as a whole. I'm about 10 minutes in here, and I have to say they reissued the wrong album.
Time to check the archaeology dig notes from the AC to get his impressions: "Akira Ishikawa's travels to Africa and subsequent fixation on fusing African music with modern jazz and rock is well documented, but unfortunately several of his more interesting LPs that came out during this particular period are not. First there was the avant-garde free-jazz freakout "Impression of Africa - 'Uganda'" (unrelated to the later well-known "Uganda" album), a commercially unreleased 1970 live supersession arranged by Masahiko Sato and performed by the combined forces of Akira Ishikawa & Count Buffalos, Toshiyuki Miyama & New Herd, and the Terumasa Hino Quintet. Only a couple of test press copies of this are known to exist (Columbia seemingly deemed it "too extreme" and refused to release it), making it perhaps Japan's rarest and most valuable experimental jazz LP. Interestingly, if you read the liners of the original "Primitive Community" LP, it's actually mentioned there as a "shocking" introduction to the Africa-meets-jazz/rock concept in Japan. But more relevant to the album being reviewed here was "Power Rock With Drums - The Road to Kilimanjaro" (1971, Canyon), credited to Ishikawa, but aside from his drumming actually performed by the Freedom Unity and composed (partially) by Hiromasa Suzuki. This latter name is perhaps the key point here, as although the second side of "Power Rock..." consists of nothing but pop/jazz covers, the first side features two lengthy and more interesting Suzuki pieces fusing African music and progressive jazz-rock. This seems to have laid the groundwork for "African Rock", released later the same year, for although it's credited to and performed by Ishikawa and his Count Buffalos band, all but one of the pieces were actually written by Suzuki once again.
So, now that we've set the scene, what about the music? Well, thankfully this one is a bulls-eye for what they were attempting. Eight all-original instrumentals (aside from a little "tribal chanting") are featured, and the style can perhaps best be described as a fusion of the better parts of the following year's "Uganda" (think of "Pigmy") with some hints of "Primitive Community", filtered through the psychedelic/progressive jazz-rock stylings that Suzuki would develop over the next two years on his "Rock Joint" albums. The highlight of the album for me is the one-two punch that leads off the second side, "The Earth" featuring some of Mizutani's wildest fuzz soloing ever, followed up by "Love", a darkly mysterious flute and tribal percussion led piece that really nails that "lost in the deep jungle" vibe. An excellent album overall, and hopefully one that will be reissued someday. Confusingly, there was another identically titled "African Rock" LP released in 1972 (this one featuring a close-up of Ishikawa's face on the sleeve), but it consists of nothing but cover tunes and is of much less interest."
If the phrase "Mizutani's wildest fuzz ever" doesn't get your heart started, you may want to consult your doctor. Or your coroner. This album is everything you want in a funk psych jazz rock album - except you almost never do get what you want. It's the perfect blend of sweet grooves, wild psych, and deep funk. Horn charts, flute, tribal drums, and Mizutani psych guitar. What more can you ask for? A really splendid album, that the always deep diving Japanese record companies seem to come through on. It's a matter of patience at this point. But given all the wonderful Japanese reissues we've seen in the last 5 years or so, we can only hope this one will achieve top priority. I'd be a first day buyer for sure. As for original LP's, well they're predictably expensive - more than I would want to pay for this type of album. I did find a couple of copies out there, if you are so inclined and financially secure.