Nanjo Asahito’s La Musica label was a treasure-trove of magnificent psychedelic (and other) weirdnesses — unusual collaborations, old recordings, outtakes, and such ephemera — quickly and, so the story goes, sometimes shadily dubbed onto cassette or VHS or huge CD-R boxsets. Among all the oddities to be found on this subterranean outlet of the pseudo-mainstream of the Japanese psych/noise/folk underground (whatever that might be — P.S.F. Records?), there are quite a few that sound like they might be worth hearing by virtue of their intriguing premises alone. Leningrad Psychedelic Blues Machine’s Dark Star cassette strikes me as one of them.
What premises? Well, Leningrad Psychedelic Blues Machine featured the then-current members of Mainliner (Kawabata Makoto, these days better known for Acid Mothers Temple; Nanjo Asahito of High Rise; Koizumi Hajime, also sometime drummer for AMT) adding the “psychedelic” to Tababata Mitsuru’s Leningrad Blues Machine project. This already quite tempting collaboration is supplemented by the fact that the title track is — of course — a swirling 20+-minute rendition of “Dark Star,” The Grateful Dead’s most iconic (and obsessively documented) number. Dark Star! Leningrad Psychedelic Blues Machine weren’t part of a scene that has been particularly circumspect when it comes to flagging its influences (if in doubt, check out any of Acid Mothers Temple’s song or album titles for their almost random mélange of classic rock/prog/psych references), but hearing a full-blown cover of such a distinctive tune is still uncommon enough to be diverting.
It’s an interpretation that’s reasonably faithful, albeit with the blown-out sound familiar from the majority of Nanjo’s productions; his bass is buzzy and thick, but the guitar is unusually buoyant and lucid, and we’re happily spared the kitschy “transitive nightfall of diamonds” lyrics. A true deadhead would be able to make a nice structural comparison between this version and the evolving form of the Grateful Dead’s own. I’m just grateful that there’s no chance “Turn on Your Love Lamp” is going to appear anywhere near it. If Ben & Jerry’s made a Makoto/Mitsuru ice cream flavor — lord knows what it would taste like, what dizzying effects it would bring about — I’d guess it would appeal to my palate more than Cherry Garcia ever did.
That’s before we even get to the other side, the equally exciting “acid” side to Dark Star’s more laid back “cool side” (I confess I wouldn’t be too upset if every double-sided format were to have a cool and an acid side.) “Leningrad Sonic” is a brief and intense burst of free rock fury; “Satirize” slows things down to a murky tread, the album’s only vocals an underwater blur; “Wood Stock Monster II (Free Jazz Version)” reinterprets the heavy-psych riffery of Leningrad Blues Machine’s “Wood Stock Monster” with the addition of a (not particularly jazzy, but I’m neither genre-police nor judge) formless spaced-out interlude. None of which is particularly new ground for those involved, but it’s perfect fodder for listeners, like me, whose simple pleasure in the visceral and uninhibited nature of such music is happily supplemented by the micro-novelties in the execution. If you’re as at home with the anomalies, the unusual details, and the one-offs, as with the records that create/redefine genres, Dark Star is a good example and one of the many such in La Musica’s catalog.
Of course, La Musica, like all good things, had to come to an end. A number of the projected releases of La Musica’s extensive catalog never appeared when — this is reported in the interest of the essential activity of rock & roll mythmaking as much as scurrilous rumor spreading — it seems that Nanjo vanished into the ether, supposedly having irritated too many people with his unsanctioned bootlegging. Even when Mainliner made their recent (triumphant, I’d say) return, Revelation Space, Nanjo was replaced by Bo Ningen’s Kawabe Taigen as bassist, and the band was renamed Kawabata Makoto’s Mainliner to mark the difference. At least Nanjo’s continued existence was attested to by the note of thanks addressed to him in Revelation Space. There’s that.