The long-running project of saxophonist Yasuaki Shimizu, this album represents in most listeners’ opinions (and mine) the pinnacle of his craftsmanship and the height of Mariah’s artistic endeavors. Each track here still feels fresh, as though it was recorded yesterday. This has much to do with the team of musicians Shimizu had surrounded himself with.
Originally begun as a hard rock/prog rock outfit, Mariah’s music focused on jazz interludes strung together with prototypical 1980s rock and pop. The music varied quite a bit from the harder rocking “Marginal Love” to the progressive leaning “Black Mariah.” Prior to Utakata, they had released three albums, Mariah, Yen Tricks, and Marginal Love. However, the advancement of originality on Utakata is unparalleled in the band’s history.
Shimizu went back to the drawing board after the lead singer, Satoshi Jimmy Murakami left the band. The approach became more organic––more natural. The band incorporated people they were already hanging out with at the Mariah offices. The artwork was produced by the manga artist and friend of Shimizu’s, Yla Okudaira, who worked out of Mariah’s office.
Another vital addition, according to Shimizu in a recent interview, was the addition of Aki Ikuta as co-producer. Until Utakata No Hibi, Ikuta mainly focused on management and “playing in and coordinating jazz sessions.”
He invited artist and wife of Mariah bassist Morio Watanabe, Seta Evanian, to write Armenian lyrics for various songs on the album. These were sung by her friend and visual artist, Julie Fowell, and as Shimizu recalled in an interview with Red Bull Music Academy, “I remember the inspiration that flowed through me when we were collaborating, the feeling of an eternal breeze brushing your cheek.”
The music itself exemplifies this breeziness. It flows effortlessly and from a place of great passion. The incorporation of such seemingly disparate genres as jazz, Armenian, Asian, African, pop, disco, and new wave among others, so fluidly and with so few missteps is a testament to the openness of the recording sessions and the creative process.
“Hana Ga Saitara” bounces along, boosted by electronic burbles, yelps of saxophone, lively bass, and group vocals that at one point are spoken through what sounds like a megaphone. The effect is at once a feeling both recognizable yet completely unique.
The standout piece, “Shinzo No Tobira,” leans heavily on echoed drums, thumping bass, synth-pop keys, and gorgeous, off-kilter vocals by Fowell.
Utakata would sadly be the last record released by Mariah. The band went their separate ways shortly after its release. It’s hard to say where their music would have gone after this album––if it’s even possible to expand on such a sound as was already presented here. Shimizu, for his part, would go on to create numerous fantastic solo records, not in the least Kakashi.
However, regardless of the finality of Mariah, there is so much to mine here that after hundreds of listens, I’m still finding new phrases, new sounds, new images I hadn’t heard before. That is the beauty of this record. And that they accomplished this with such seemingly casualness only adds to its status as a hidden gem of the 1980s.
You can purchase the vinyl reissue at Palto Flats