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Hoppy Kamiyama - A Meaningful Meaninglessness

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Artist: Hoppy Kamiyama

Album: A Meaningful Meaninglessness

Label: Creage/Yamaha

Review date: Oct. 6, 2005

Japan's notorious Hoppy Kamiyama returns, with an elaborately-produced CD/DVD package featuring a huge band that includes such stars as drummer Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins) and guitarist Natsuki Kido as well as players on trombone, sax, trumpet, harp, turntable and strings. This is a giant-size return to the extended rock-band format for Kamiyama, and he takes the opportunity to dive into massive prog rock, augmented with horns and strings. In some ways it's like a throwback to ELP, and in other ways it's an impressive modernizing of prime Zappa material. It may be the first prog album I've heard that uses turntable and a horn section together, and then throws in dramatic guitar and weird sound effects.

After a brief intro that's like the pseudo-classical opening for a news program, "Looper Dooper" throws you straight into the action. It opens with fast turntable scratching, then enters Mahavishnu territory. It's unapologetically prog, with enough of a sense of humor to be entertaining but not so much that it winds up simply silly. When the vocals enter, they're an additional reminder that Yoshida is involved, as it takes on a bit of Ruins feel. Then it abruptly takes a turn into lounge music, and then careens back to heavier territory. There are a lot of musical changes in these eight and a half minutes, but they're all smooth and natural.

The spoken-word beginning of the 12-minute "Kali d'Amour" immediately brings Zappa to mind. Natsuki's guitar wails in and around the words, then the horns break in briefly like a king's welcome, and things get even more Zappa-fied. A lounge-jazz break takes it down a notch before the rock kicks in again and accompanies the spoken word to the end. The guitar is excessively wanky at times, but in general the music's focused, intense and effective throughout.

Elsewhere, Natsuki gets some serious McLaughlin-esque leads in, while on songs like "U-tan" and "Everyday I have the Bruise" the rhythms can hit some strong, serious grooves. In fact, it's the rhythm section that's particularly noteworthy on "Knock on food" and "A meaningful meaninglessness, pushing everything forward while the horns, strings, keyboards, and guitar play amongst themselves. The latter employs a chorus of vocals and distorted guitar to make the song very dense and dramatic. The piano and electronics pulsating over the rhythm on "Knock on food" is a particular highlight.

The gentler, more mysterious songs inevitably feel like soundtracks. The ghostly guitar, vibes and quiet horns of "To cast pearls before swine" should accompany a science-fiction noir film. "Fountain of Love" is 12 minutes of Twilight Zone samples and burbles. After a brief spoken intro, the song breaks down into weird vocalizations and sound collage, certainly the most abstract song here. The story doesn't really work very well, but the sounds are impressive.

Throughout, the skilled playing is beyond question, and the recording is crystalline. Kamiyama's quirky sense of humor is evident, and the balance of serious playing and oddball composition makes Zappa the closest touchstone. But anyone wanting to hear what 21st-century prog rock can achieve will find their rewards here.

The DVD included in the package offers a half-hour presentation of some of the album's songs, mixing old-style pixelated computer graphics with footage from the recordings sessions, which is pretty interesting. You can see Kamiyama conducting the orchestra on some of the tracks, intercut with some brief, odd spoken interludes with Kamiyama, vocalist Emi Eleonola, and others.

By Mason Jones

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