Yasuaki Shimizu, the Japanese saxophonist and band leader, has made dozens of albums, which, since the late '70s, have spanned silky smooth jazz, rock, electro pop and Bach cello suites. If you've heard only one, it's highly likely to be Utakata No Hibi, a wondrous Fourth World excursion credited to Mariah. Its reissue two years ago has led to an increased interest in his work outside of Japan. Earlier this year, Crammed Discs rereleased Music For Commercials, Shimizu's whirlwind 1987 LP.
Utakata No Hibi's closest cousin is 1982's Kakashi, which has been reissued by Palto Flats and WRWTFWW. It was a testing ground for the fusion of saxophone, electronics and pop arrangements that, in Utakata No Hibi, would reach its sumptuous peak a year later. But Kakashi has sweet moments of its own, and its own sensibility. "Suiren"'s jaunty jazz pop layers, bubbling up in intensity, spill over into the title track, which is filled with martial snares and percolating marimba lines. Shimizu touches on ska, dub and jazz but ultimately creates his own trajectory. "Semi Tori No Hi" surfaced on the crucial Better Days compilation last year, and it remains a standout here, alternating between placid new age vibes—shimmering chimes, strummed harps—and soulful horn bursts. The mellow part of Shimizu's sound carries on into "Kono Yoni Yomeri (Sono 2)," where his clarinet plays solemnly as crickets chirp.
The second half of the album is more adventurous. Shimizu's horn on "Yume Dewa" recalls early Lounge Lizards. The album's longest track, "Umi No Ue Kara," is also its most intriguing. The dubbed-out drums, marimbas and muttered vocals evoke a mellow mood, with Shimizu's horn languidly weaving through these elements. He integrates these sounds and moods in a way that makes the track—and the album as a whole—seem wholly of its own moment. Shimizu's work might've fallen into distinct categories over the years, but Kakashi is in a class of its own.