Ryo Kawasaki (February 25, 1947 – April 13, 2020) was a Japanese jazz fusion guitarist, composer and band leader, best known as one of the first musicians to develop and popularise the fusion genre and for helping to develop the guitar synthesizer in collaboration with Roland Corporation and Korg. His album Ryo Kawasaki and the Golden Dragon Live was one of the first all-digital recordings and he created the Kawasaki Synthesizer for the Commodore 64. During the 1960s, he played with various Japanese jazz groups and also formed his own bands. In the early 1970s, he moved to New York City, where he settled and worked with Gil Evans, Elvin Jones, Chico Hamilton, Ted Curson, Joanne Brackeen amongst others. In the mid-1980s, Kawasaki drifted out of performing music in favour of writing music software for computers. He also produced several techno dance singles, formed his own record company called Satellites Records, and later returned to jazz-fusion in 1991.
Kawasaki died in Tallinn, Estonia in April 2020 at the age of 73 (wikipedia)
Some great Jazz-Funk mixed with tinges of Fusion!
Ryo Kawasaki is a Japanese Jazz guitarist, who might be more famous for his work as an inventor and programmer, making his own guitar synthesizer and the computer programme Kawasaki Synthesizer for the Commodore 64. However these didn’t happen until 3 and 7 years, respectively, after this record was made.
Juice is the 5th solo record for Kawasaki and his 3rd since moving to New York in 1973 and first on an American label, RCA. While in Japan he had already been making a name for himself playing for Takeshi Inomata and for YTR alumnus, Jiro Inagaki. However within a year of living in NY Gil Evans had sought him out to play on a Jazz recording of Jimi Hendrix’s own music, something that Jimi had intended on doing himself, but sadly died before the project had really gotten off the ground. Doing some work with Chico Hamilton, Ryo manged to grab Tom Coster (Santana) for keys and Sam Morrison (Miles Davis) for saxophone and flute among several others for this record.
Besides its fantastic cover art, Juice is 7 tracks running at 38 minutes. Tasteful guitar runs aplenty, the album is mostly Jazz-Funk, but it spends plenty of time shifting in more unusual directions either tonally or musically, but it never loses its catchiness and sense of fun.
Out of the gate Raisin act as a real introduction to most of the band, bringing people in and out letting them have brief moments in the spotlight. While it does mostly focus on Ryo, as you’d expect, at 6 minutes it has plenty of time for lots of different instruments to step forward briefly.
The descending arpeggios on Sometime are a beautiful way to begin the track and set the mood for something far more lush and gentle and the rest of the song delivers wonderfully. A slow jam that lets some of the horns and synths take lead for a larger portion of the track, including the customary sensual sax solo. When the guitar does come in, it’s spectacular and a brilliant show off of Kawasaki’s ability to be both technical and melodic at the same time.
The Breeze and I has an interesting history, originally written in 1928 under the name Andalucía by Ernesto Lecuona, in 1940 lyrics were added by Al Stillman. One of the most famous versions, certainly in Britain, is by Caterina Valente in 1955. So a song written by a Cuban, with lyrics added by an American and made more famous by an Italian is now coming to my attention because of someone from Japan…
Ryo’s version is lively and fun, still containing much of the swing that the original song would have been composed in, the but the choice to use synths instead of piano and Ryo’s own guitar work also help make this entirely his own piece. Over 7 minutes long, i’m very impressed at how well it held my attention for the entire runtime!
Eastside Boogie returns to the funkier side of things with ones of the strongest bass-lines across the album and the horns adding to the rhythm section to give it even more power. There are a couple moments of experimentation through the synths, with some adding very cosmic textures.
El Toro contains one the most shred-like guitar solos across the entire project, with a keyboard solo to match. Easily the song the delves into the world of Fusion the most. The song has so much energy from front to back, it’s so much fun and closes out on a fantastic sax solo and a wonderful crescendo from everyone involved!
Bamboo Child continues the more experimental section, moving in a more relaxed direction than the previous couple of songs, instead it explores texture especially in its use of flute and more peculiar percussion. It’s a nice respite, from the high energy that most of the album has been up to this point.
Andes closes out the album on another high note, flirting with the unusual in its numerous solos and key changes, the song is still mostly in the Jazz-Funk vein and blisters its way through itself, somehow making 4 1/2 minutes feel like only 2.
If i have to be mean it would probably be that some of the tracks could be a little more technical and would still maintain their strong sense of melody and rhythm. Coupled with a synth bass sound that i’m not particularly enamoured with and less structure than the other songs here, Raisin is an easy pick for weakest track among several great ones.
Having said that, Juice is loads of fun and even at its weakest points is never boring. A wonderful record that barely ever lets up and doesn’t waste a second even when it does. Sadly we lost Ryo Kawasaki in April of this year, i’m not sure of what though, but his music is a testament to how brilliant he was! (by Jamobo)
Muhammad Abdullah (percussion)
Tom Coster (keyboards, synthesizer)
Ryo Kawasaki (guitar, synthesizer)
Mike Lipskin (synthesizer, percussion)
Hugh McCracken (guitar)
Sam Morrison (saxophone, flute)
Stu Woods (bass)
Jimmy Young (drums)
Front + backcover from Japan:
01. Raisins (Kawasaki) 6.19
02. Sometime (Kawasaki) 4.46
03. The Breeze And I (Stillman/Lecuona) 7.18
04. East Side Boogie (Kawasaki) 6.05
05. El Toro (Kawasaki) 4.36
06. Bamboo Child (Kawasaki) 4.52
07. Andes (Kawasaki) 4.26
His website (now deleted):