The final track from one of Suzuki’s few albums has found its way into a variety of songs some 40 years after its initial release.
Somewhere between listening to Ryo Fukui’s Scenery and Herbie Hancock’s My Point of View, YouTube Music did me a solid. The service recommended I listen to Hiroshi Suzuki’s Cat, a five-track jazz fusion album released in 1975.
Even though I hadn’t heard the full record, I certainly had numerous run-ins with the album’s outro, “Romance.” The second shortest track on the project, “Romance” stands in contrast to the rest of the track list. Where “Shrimp Dance” and “Walk Tall” build out from their simplistic intros into competitive melodies in which Suzuki and his bandmates toss tunes back and forth, “Romance” never truly leaves the starting gate.
The notable differences of “Romance” from the rest of Cat’s tracklist — lacking swelling crescendos or crashing cymbals to counter Suzuki’s soulful trombone melodies — lends the track to finding a new home outside the purview of Japanese jazz forty years after its release. Countless artists have sampled the tune, ranging from high-profile rappers like Stalley, to independent artists like Jordxn Bryxnt for Spillage Village.
Suzuki’s lasting impact is captured in many forms, but none are more telling than Nippon Columbia re-releasing “Romance” as part of an effort to unearth some of the label’s “hidden gems.” According to a press release, “Nippon Columbia has announced a reissue of their 70’s and 80’s catalog,” bringing a number of jazz, city pop and rock records to streaming services for the first time.
But let YouTube recommendations tell it, and Suzuki was anything but a hidden gem. Unauthorized uploads of Cat to the streaming service have afforded Suzuki’s music the timelessness of the digital age.
Far from a cookie cutter fusion record, Suzuki and his five piece band (comprised of artists from Jazz group Freedom Unity) crafted a song ready made to be deconstructed, chopped and looped into a variety of arrangements. Starting from Suzuki’s trombone, the instrument’s somber whine offers samplers a choice between lead melodies or flavorful accents. Ozay Moore’s Freddie Joachim-produced “Doin It” is a prime example of this, taking snippets of Suzuki’s trombone line and peppering them throughout Moore’s verse.
Meanwhile, Hiromasa Suzuki, the group’s keyboardist, fills “Romance” with a hazy atmosphere, not unlike the synthwork on Kool and the Gang’s “Summer Madness.” On a track like “Cocktail Blue,” Producer and DJ Dave Allison can rework Suzuki’s keys into a steady backdrop, while layering his own synth melodies on top.
What really lends “Romance” to its development as a sample, however, is its cool, 76 BPM tempo. Suzuki’s five-piece doesn’t rush anywhere on the track, leaving producers the ability to retool the song without having to taper down its tempo to fit lo-fi norms. J.Cole ramping up the speed on the 2015 re-release of A Tribe Called Quests’ “Can I Kick It” is just as fitting as Bds.u’s downtempo groove on “Last Summer.”
Regardless of how it’s repurposed, the magic of “Romance” is its identifiability. Suzuki and his band masterfully layer the track such that 40 years after its release, the instrumentation blends seamlessly with new age vocals. It’s a fitting permutation. Suzuki and the rest of the Freedom Unity outfit regularly experimented with genre bending, as they did on Dynamic Rock in 1971. But across 40 minutes and five tracks, Cat is a deft reminder of the importance of Japanese jazz, a genre that champions a love affair with music around the world.