Other than being a great proponent of why we need paid maternity leave in America, Tabo’s Project Eyes Of A Child is a great proponent of how many hidden gems in Japan’s musical history are still left to be rediscovered. A balearic masterpiece, or walearic (if we’re being pedantic), Eyes of a Child was conceived in 1986 by Takashi Omori, guitarist for gigantic Japanese rock group Southern All Stars and the late, great Japanese session musician Ken Yajima. Sometime, in 1985, when Southern All Star vocalist Yuko Hara was conceiving, all members of the group decided to launch solo projects rather than breakup the band, giving Yuko time to enjoy her maternity leave.
Right before the band’s hiatus, Takashi had started to experiment in Southern All Stars’ Kamakura with tropical, funk, and Latin musical rhythms. While the others would break off to create more “rocking”, jazzy, or whatever this was, kind of music, Takashi wanted to explore their danceable side more. Maybe influenced by the sound of Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage or Phil Collin’s pop-oriented work, Takashi wanted to try his luck as a dance producer. Takashi, working with multi-instrumentalist Ken Yajima, would use his nickname, “Tabo”, to christen the band’s name, and set out on a search for a vocalist for the group.
A search that stretched into thousands, throughout Japan, led to the discovery of female vocalist Natsu (Yamanaka Natsu). The first track they created, which would then turn out to be their first single, “Dance Away” showed what they had in mind. It’s combination of J-Mellow, light fusion, funk, and electro-pop was something different, it had a danceable vibe unlike anything done by the Southern All Stars. Imagine if Tony Swain was born in Tokyo and had access to some of the best Japanese session players at the time (something Discogs’ entry for this album can attest to)…well, that’s what Tabo’s Project sounded like. What made their music fascinating, though, was the way Ken used his Fairlight II sampler, in conjunction with both his and Tabo’s Ibanez IMG 2010 MIDI guitar, to create some kind of futuristic, summer sound. To me, it sounds like equal parts Beach Boys meeting ZTT-era ABC or ’80s dance supergroup Power Station (if they nailed their sound more than failed at it…).
Two months after “Dance Away”, sessions recorded between July and August, in 1986, yielded all the tracks that would make up Eyes of a Child. That futuristic summer sound would be exactly what was fleshed out and what would greet you, when you’d turn on the album. “Feel”, Tabo’s Project’s obvious highlight, put that in full focus. That track was wind-swept environmental music opening itself up to 10cc-like harmonizing. It was hearing that same arrangement then open itself up to some gorgeous electro-funk and blues riffs. Then, it was that track coming back full circle to sweep you off your feet again. Subtle, languid, beautiful and quite danceable, “Feel” would really set the tone for what the rest of the album could open itself to.
Everything from the intricate, Minako Yoshida-like funk like “Time’s Street”, to sensitive bangers like “Eyes Of A Child” that somehow tap into America’s Minneapolis R&B sound, or askew Europop-indebted songs like “Tears”, showed that all the crew involved wanted to stretch out their idea of funky, summer music. It’s always a mystery to me why an album like this has so flown under the radar. Truly endearing, it’s sad to realize that Tabo’s Project Eyes Of A Child has been out of print for decades now, ending its first run decades ago when it was released on Southern All Stars’ Taishita record label. Would you ask me if the hyper inflated price for an original is worth it? No amount of music, should ever be impossible for anyone to listen to or only available to well-off connoisseurs, that would be my answer. On the flip, though, the music therein is well worth your time to discover today, that I do agree to. So, shall we squeeze one more drop out of summer?