“Where are we going, man?”
“I don’t know, but we gotta go.”
–Jack Kerouac.

Albatrus’ music is in the spirit of Kerouac; the members of this all-star jam band don’t know where it’s going, they’re just going with it. And damn, in little more than a year, they’ve gone the distance, playing large festivals while receiving requests for shows all over Japan. Meanwhile, some of the members play in other bands with their respective schedules to attend to. Motoharu (sax) is in internationally acclaimed jazz act Soil & “Pimp” Sessions. Koshino Ryuta (guitar) is front-man for Razoku, a psychedelic-punk-pop-jam trio from Fujisawa city (Kanagawa). Shiraishi Toshizo (guitarist-converted-to-bass) in fact recently withdrew from the band, citing long commutes from his native Nagano and his commitments to a hundred other projects, notably his jazz-rock band Blissed. Replacing him is Kobayashi Shinju, bassist for Spinna-B-ill and Keyco, with a slightly funkier groove style. Drummer Peace-K and singer/guitarist Miyake Yohei comprise the molten core.

The latter two set out together shortly after Yohei’s original band, Inushiki (aka Doggystyle) ended its long, inspiring run in 2009. Yohei says he was desperate to do something musical when Peace-K prodded him, “Come on, you know you want to form a band.” They decided to let it develop organically and began sessioning. An early video (June 2009) of the pair playing “Temekuchitsuchi” (hand-bud-mouth-dirt) shows how fantastically the two gelled. With the right members, it was obvious, the fledgling act would become a formidable jam-rock band. The two played some one hundred sessions with an array of artists, adding Toshizo, Ryuta and Motoharu along the way.

Yohei insists, however, that there is no crystallized form of the band, hence the kanji for ‘kari’ (仮) before Albatrus, loosely translated into English as “tentatively.” Explains Yohei, “The only rules we lay down are that there are no rules.” Indeed, you never really know who’s going to be onstage when Albatrus is playing, or what song they are going to morph into in the middle of a jam—at recent shows, they’ve pulled out Steve Millers’ “Fly Like an Eagle” and Lou Reed’s “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.” Not traditional jam material, but that’s just what naturally flowed at the moment.

Soul-funk vocalist Keyco is a fairly regular guest, bringing enormous energy, both musical and sexual, to the stage. The temperature is always a few degrees hotter when she’s singing. And of course members from kindred groups—Dachambo, Soil, Cro-Magnon—have also been known to share the stage, as with the Itadaki and nbsa festivals.

Despite the apparent revolving doors, Albatrus does have a distinct sound. I ask Yohei about his roots and instead of musical influences, unsurprisingly he cites American Beat poets, specifically Jack Kerouac, whom he studied at Waseda University. His recording of “Tokyo Times” with Cro-Magnon, a staple of Albatrus shows, is in a way reminiscent of Ginsberg’s “Howl”—it’s pre-composed, but still raw, still ripe for improvisation. It’s neither rap, nor chant nor sermon. It’s a Beat poem couched in song. In one part, he croons, “Punk is my attitude,” revealing another of his musical roots; a meeting with Clash member Joe Strummer was a life-changing event.

It seems the formation of Albatrus will be, too. Yohei and Peace-K claim that they didn’t think about making a CD when they set out. They originally wanted to let their music ripen for about three or four years. They now acknowledge it could take ten years for their music to develop fully. When I use the analogy of a tree sending down its roots, Yohei says, “Yes, we do think of it like a tree.”

Despite the relative newness of the band and that they really only have one original song—the “Welcome to the Albatrus” quasi-theme song—they were scheduled to begin recording their first CD last year. Then Ryuta broke his hand in a skateboarding accident and that was rescheduled while “Botchan” filled him for him at shows. Yohei takes it in stride, “That, like all the unexpected things that happen to us, is like a gift from God. Botchan joining us was fate.” While Ryuta recuperates, Yohei and Peace-K will be on the road, in Hong Kong in January and Nepal in February. Once reunited and with a CD behind them, maybe the members will be popping up in cities across the world for live shows. They deserve to.

But success and exposure too seldom come to musical acts that deserve it in Japan. Maybe Albatrus will need something more than their enormous talent. Luck? Fate? Whatever happens, it seems the members will be fine with it. And wherever it’s going, there will be more than a few devoted fans along for the ride.




しかし洋平によるとメンバーは固定ではなく、それがバンド名を“(仮)Albatrus”としている理由だという。「バンドの決め事はただ一つ、定まらぬを定めとした」という彼の言葉がバンドの特徴を端的に表している。ライブでも飛び入りがあったり曲の途中で別の曲が割り込んだりすることは珍しくない。最近のライブでもスティーブ・ミラー・バンドの”Fly Like an Eagle”、ルー・リードの”Take a Walk on the Wild Side”といった本来ジャム向きではない楽曲をその瞬間のインスピレーションで自然に取り入れていたのが印象的だった。


バンドのバックボーンは変わらないが、ゲストメンバーは絶えず入れ替わっている。それでもAlbatrusは聞いてすぐそれと分かる独自の音を持っている。三宅洋平に彼のルーツについて聞いてみた。すると彼は影響を受けた人物として早稲田大学在籍中に知ったというアメリカのビート系作家ジャック・ケルアックの名前を挙げた。Cro-Magnonと共に録音した”TokyoTimes”はAlbatrusのライブでもハイライトのひとつになっている曲だが、これはアメリカの詩人アレン・ギンスバーグの代表作「吠える」のspoken-word(リズミカルに言葉をしゃべる)スタイルを連想させる。以前から温めていた曲だというが今でもある意味未完成で、インプロヴィゼイションの余地を多分に残しているという。語り調だがラップとも聖歌とも違う。楽曲という形を借りたこれはいわばビート系の詩である。もう一つの彼のルーツはパンクロックであることを”Tokyo Times”の中でも明かしており(“Punk is my attitude”)、クラッシュのジョー・ストラマーと会った経験は人生観を変えるほど強烈なものだったらしい。


バンドはまだスタートしてそんなに経っていないし、オリジナル曲は彼らのテーマソングともいえる”Welcome to the Albatrus”1曲しかないという状況ながら昨年ファーストアルバム制作の話が出た。ところがギターの越野竜太がスケートボード中に右手首を骨折したためレコーディングの話は延期になってしまったが、ツアーの方は“坊ちゃん”こと長久保寛之のサポートで続けられている。三宅洋平は越野竜太の事故を冷静に受け止めており、「僕らに起こる色々なハプニングはすべて宿命的なものだと感じています。坊ちゃんは、神からの贈り物でした。彼が参加したのは宿命でした。」と話してくれた。越野竜太が怪我の治療に専念する一方、三宅洋平とPeace-Kの二人はツアーを続け、1月には香港、2月にはネパールでのライブが組まれている。越野竜太の怪我が治ればアルバム制作の話も再開するだろうし、また国内外問わず色々なところでAlbatrusの元気な姿を見たい。


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