Unheard of Music: Yoko Kanno

Yoko Kanno with her big band in a live performance of "Tank", a sound that, without fear or favor, truly kicks ASS and TAKES NAMES. If you aren't moving around to this, I don't think I want to know you:

Yoko Kanno is a Japanese composer and leader of "The Seatbelts", a jazz band/pick up orchestra. She found the usual paths closed to her, so she made a name writing soundtracks for animation, much as Ennio Morricone elevated Westerns.

Kanno must have worked every type of jazz, funk, blues, even shamanic chants and lullabies into my favorite, Cowboy Bebop. What amazes me is how authentic it sounds, even with her goofy habit of mixing Japanese with English and sometimes Russian lyrics. If you'd told me I'd be singing along phonetically-- and feeling-- to a Japanese blues... (the title refers to Howling Wolf's first album, The Real Folk Blues)

"The Real Folk Blues" by Yoko Kanno
Aishiteta to nageku ni wa
Amari ni mo toki wa sugi te shimatta
Mada kokoro no hokorobi o
Iyasenumama kaze ga fuiteru
(It's too late to cry I love you.
The wind still blowing, my heart still aching)

Hitotsu no me de asu o mite
Hitotsu no me de kinou mitsumeteru
Kimi no ai no yurikagode
Mo ichido yasurakani nemuretara
(One side of my eyes see tomorrow,
And the other one see yesterday
I hope I could sleep in the cradle of your love, again)

Kawaita hitomi de dareka na itekure
(Somebody cry for me, with dry eyes)
The real folk blues!
Honto no kanashimi ga shiritaidake
Doro no kawa ni sukatta jinsei mo warukuwanai
Ichido kiri de owarunara
(The real folk blues:
I just want to feel real sorrow
It's not so bad a life, sitting in muddy water
If life is only lived once)

Kibou ni michita zetsuboto
Wanagashikakerareteru kono chansu
Nani ga yoku te warui no ka
Koin no omoi to kuramitaita

(Hopeless hope, every chance becomes a trap
What is right, or wrong
It's like both sides of a coin)

Dore dake ikireba iyasareru no darou
(How long I must live till I'm set free?)
The real folk blues
Honto no yorokobi ga shiritai dake
Hikaru mono no subete ga ougen to wa kagiranai
(The real folk blues
I just want to feel pleasure that's real
All that glitters is not gold)

This is a scene from the penultimate episode of Cowboy Bebop. Faye Valentine draws the outline of her childhood bedroom in the ruins of a devastated Earth. Radical Edward, the child savant known as "Ed" leaves the ship, alone-- and Ein, a genetically enhanced, hyper-intelligent corgi, decides that Ed needs him more than the others do.

Here she tries her hand at ska, "Bad Dog No Biscuit":

Or fooling around with standards on solo piano ("How Long Has This Been Going On" at the beginning and "Rhapsody in Blue" at the end and I don't know what in the middle):

One more favorite: wringing emotion out of techno music on "Inner Universe", with lyrics in Russian, English and Latin for Ghost in the Shell.

I didn't even know techno could contain so much emotion. I love this woman.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Awesome is not even the word.
Love the piano solo.
Dee Ann

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I love COWBOY REBOP. And I am truly thankful that you did not post a YouTube of you singing along to any one of these incredible clips.

John Martin said...

This is amazing stuff. I downloaded her whole oeuvre. It's unfortunate that, as you say, the normal channels were not available to someone this talented. However, because of it, we got some anime with a really sick soundtrack.

hobbs said...

The "Piano Solo" is:

1. "Farewell Blues" (OST 3) / "Cosmos" (OST 1) / "The Singing Sea" (OST 2) [beginning - 1:35]

2. "Piano Black" (OST 1) [1:35 - 2:30]

3. "ELM" (OST2) [2:30 - 4:00]

4. "Green Bird" (OST2) [4:00 - 4:50]

5. "Piano Bar I" (Vitaminless) [4:50 - end]