There’s an appeal to Katsutoshi Morizono’s 4:17 p.m. that can only be heightened, or fully appreciated, during summer, our current time of the year. Cycling from truly elegant compositions – a frequent, recurring theme lately on the blog – 4:17 p.m. mixes jazz fusion, post-bossanova, reggae, light mellow/City Pop, and even experimental bits of New Age and minimalism into a very summery, quite Balearic, laid-back vibe. At the end of the day, 4:17 p.m. was Katsutoshi’s swan song to powerful, lightweight music that ages better with time. That’s something that has always been a goal of mine, to make it easier to understand just how powerful “light” music can be. Now I can appreciate how if you put something on, just like 4:17 p.m., one can see that Katsutoshi makes this case much better than any of my words will what stepping into summer really feels like.
Katsutoshi has always been a leading figure in the world of Japanese jazz and prog rock circles with his work as guitarist in the groups Prism and Yonin Bayashi, respectively. However, hidden underneath all the deeply technical proficiency he can exert as a musician was a musician who wanted to make more accessible music. He had a phenomenal sense of taste and restraint which could only come out by taking full reins of his own artistic vision. His brilliant debut Bad Anima, much like Camel’s Breathless, saw him touch on huge swaths of urban-influence dance pop music whether it be Jazz Funk or West Coast AOR and produce stuff that put his deep sense of melody into glorious affecting music that one could also simply relax too. You owe it to yourself to check out his covers of “You’ll Stay In My Heart” and “Space Traveller”, the latter a true AOR hidden gem, that he sends into some dreamy melancholia stratosphere.
Fast forward three years to 1981’s Spirits and find Katsutoshi refining that light, funky touch with even more bits of experimental edges. To my ears this album presented a new departure by showing all these new parts: part Godley and Creme, part Jeff Beck, part Narada Michael Walden, and part Makoto Matsushita that would bend at the edges in songs like “Night Lights”, “Imagery” or “Moon Gazer” with bits of unplaceable musical abandonment that showed there was far more to his light music that Katsutoshi let on.
4:17 p.m. simply puts you there. Divided into two album sides – songs for the A.M. and songs for the P.M. – 4:17 p.m. is one languid summer day in a nutshell. Beautiful through and through, 4:17 p.m. puts Katsutoshi’s vocals at the forefront. Satin-edged and landing like velvet, Katsutoshi had never sounded as effortless and soft as he would in 4:17 p.m. It’s this soft touch that carries the music of 4:17 p.m. through fascinating takes on “mellow” music. I can’t imagine any heart of stone can resist an opener like “Private Summer”, one that sets the scene for the whole album it’s cover merely hints at.
Very wave-like, at least the A-side of the LP is, 4:17 p.m. crests with “Accident Love” a blissful Lover’s Rock ballad that prepares you for the more meditative parts of the album with jazzy instrumentals like “After the Rain” which sounds like the twin brother from another mother of Makoto Matsushita’s “September Rain” – although I think that’s what Katsutoshi was exactly aiming for – and my personal favorite the utterly sublime “The Blue Heaven”. “The Blue Heaven” brings to mind the searching music of Tom Jobim and Joao Gilberto that in Katsutoshi’s hands plies similar, yearning strings and understated lyrical guitar work, for musical feelings that are just as sublime. Like watching a sunset unfold before your own eyes, this track ending the A-side can’t put you anywhere but next to the beach at some golden hour.
The B-side thankfully is just an afterglow. Far more subdued than A-side, Katsutoshi through songs like “Jasmin” all the way through “Wet Pavement” aurally works out those kinks you may have and lets you luxuriate in just utterly tastefully done romantic mood music. Whether singing himself deliriously soulful odes like in “Jasmin” or letting his guitar do more of the talking like in “Yaruse-Night No B.G.M.” the B-side is simply, wonderfully understated in a way that if you’re not appreciative of…I think you sorely need to grow up and listen to more, varied music to understand.
Anyway, enough grown-folk talk. 4:17 p.m. isn’t the kind of album that works easily to describe on paper. Pop it in your cellphone, stream it to your car stereo, take it out on a ride, then come back and tell me some 40-odd minutes didn’t just breeze by. A good pair of headphones and a solid imagination sure can take you there too – you just need a soundtrack like 4:17 p.m. to do it, of course.