It almost seems like I really shouldn’t have to write that much about the Water Melon Group. If you don’t know the two main players of this group, the late Toshio Nakanishi and Yann Tomita, now would be a great time to go back into the FOND/SOUND vault and dig up my entries on their groups Melon and Doopees, respectively. Together, they seem like an odd pair to link up together for Cool Music. Toshio making music knee deep in American urban soul and Yann (at that moment) more known as an eccentric experimental electronic session musician – my favorite being some of his work with Ippu-Do and Masumi Hara. Together, as the Water Melon Group, they combine forces to tread back in time – before rock’n’roll – to create experimental…lounge music?!?
That’s what Cool Music is. Exotica music as imagined by a modern generation. The next logical step after Haruomi Hosono’s Tin Pan Alley, Water Melon Group drew from the world of Martin Denny, Petula Clark, Hoagy Carmichael, and Les Baxter to cover and reimagine lounge, exotica, and schmaltz as something far more respectable than people care to give it credit for. A marriage of John Cage tape experiments, neo-tropical electronics mixed with inorganic environmental musical cues or sounds, Cool Music sounds exotic in the same way Le Sacre du Sauvage used to – by being exotic mood music for places that can never truly exist.
Water Melon Group started as a side experiment, something tacked on to Japanese comedian crew Snakeman Show’s Pithecan Thropus Erectus album. However, out of that collaboration, one could sense that (at least for Yann) this easy listening music meant something to him. A true love letter to some foundational stuff for Tomita, it was on this album that his electric steel pan, vibraphones, and fascination with the music of Van Dyke Parks, came to its own. “Jungle Flower”, a hold over from the Snakeman Show album, still shines ever so beautifully here, but now it’s joined by other wicked takes on totemic tunes like “Quiet Village” and grandma faves like “Never On Sunday”. Passionate in its quest to paint the edges of this music, Cool Music still sounds like precious else other than Yann’s own work.
Where the album really takes off though is when they dig super deep into the American music songbook and come up with Burton Lane’s “On A Clear Day”, best known through Streisand’s version. Reimagining it into a new spectral essence, bird sounds and mechanical electronica meeting sumptuous piano twinkling, one starts to really feel the power of this side. The influence of it is heard through the “Mild Side”, b-side of the album. Where swooning and romantic musical tours through exotic locales – reimagined versions of Nakanishi’s Melon songs and striking originals – strike you in ways that remain powerful, how many odd years later? 20 or so odd years later. You don’t need a tiki drink, or the remaining bit of summer, to feel the remarkably laid-back moods of these electro-tropical beauties.