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Krakow Sonic Society № 144

or Japanese record labels
(yesterday and today)

The Japanese scene of record labels is extremely rich. Its most important actors appeared on it in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and among them the most important label turned out to be THREE BLIND MICE, which has a iconic status among audiophiles. We took a look at both it and other labels from that period, as well as some contemporary ones.

January 20th 2024
KRAKOW ⸜ Poland


introduction and transcription from tape by WOJCIECH PACUŁA
translation Marek Dyba
photos Tomasz Lechowski, Jaromir Waszczyszyn, "High Fidelity"

Sonic Society

March 1, 2024

KRAKOW SONIC SOCIETY is an informal group of music lovers, audiophiles, and friends meeting to learn something new about audio products, records, music, etc. The idea for KSS was born in 2005, although its roots go back several years. This is the 144th meeting within its framework.

THE WORLD OF JAPANESE MUSIC PRODUCERS is impenetrable for Westerners. We know something about it, we have heard some things, but this knowledge is not certain, and the information we have heard is not entirely reliable. Let's face it - we know far less about this part of the musical world than the Japanese know about us. As an example of how residual the information we have is, one can check, for example, the entry in the English-language version of Wikipedia talking about the Three Blind Mice record label, drastically short, being, in fact, a list of titles released by TBM - as it is referred to in short; more → HERE, accessed 18.01.2024.

⸜ An album, which combines TBM and Audio Lab. Record labels: TBM, played by Kunihiko Sugano, artist of the latter.

The bibliography of the subject is equally tenuous, even non-existent. Almost all material on the subject is available only in Japanese, usually, moreover, as articles of the magazines "Stereo Sound," the bible of audiophiles in that part of the world, and "Swing Journal", one of the most important magazines in the world dealing with jazz, published from 1948 to 2010. A catalog and description of TBM releases by TAKAO OGAWA, published in 2017 by Komakusa Publishing, helps, fortunately. Brief information can also be gathered by reading reissues of TBM records, primarily published by First Impression Music, for which Winston Ma wrote numerous essays.

A glorious exception, but really an exception, is the English-language Jazz Journeys to Japan, written by WILLIAM MINOR and published by the University of Michigan in 2004. Minor writes:

Japan has already made a huge contribution to the history of world jazz, and on many levels. Reviewing a CD by drummer Masahiko Togashi, John Corbett wrote: "Very little has really been written in English about the history of jazz in Japan. In the eyes of many Americans, the Land of the Rising Sun is a big consumer of music. And yet we have a fascinating tradition of jazz musicians in Japan, stretching far beyond a few well-known names like Toshiko Akiyoshi and Sada Watanabe." I had to learn a lot about Japan and understand a lot, before I made a real trip to the country.

⸜ WILLIAM MINOR, Jazz Journeys to Japan. The heart within, University of Michigan Press 2004, p. 4.

Although twenty years have passed since the publication of this title, not much has changed in this regard, on the maps of music publishing still, from the point of view of a person from Europe, Australia or America, to stay in our cultural circle, is terra incognita. For my part, therefore, I try to fill this gap, both by writing about audio manufacturers from this country - every year the May issue of HIGH FIDELITY is devoted exclusively to Japanese products - and by introducing the profiles of the people responsible for the most interesting recordings.

Among them, the most important seem to be Mr. OKIHIKO SUGANO and his Audio Lab. Record (1969; more → HERE) and, founded by Mr. TAKESHI FUJII, the THREE BLIND MICE label (1970), and, in our modern times, ULTRA ART RECORDS (2017), created by Messrs. HARUO USHIO and REIJI ASAKURA (more → HERE), and BRIPHONIC, 1992), the life work of Mr. MASAMICHI OHASHI.

As a complement, I suggest a column Mark Robinson in Japan, which is years old but still relevant, more → HERE «PL» and an introduction How much Poland in Japan, more → HERE.

So I thought of the 144th KSS meeting as an opportunity to present its members with albums and recordings from that country. My idea was not to revisit contemporary Japanese reissues of Western records, but to showcase recordings by domestic artists, to outline a map of the most important releases with their peculiarities in mind. As it happens, these are, almost exclusively small, few-person ventures, conceived and run by enthusiasts.

SESSION I. First Wave

THREE BLIND MICE • THE „JAPANESE” are well-known to anyone who collects LP or CD (SACD). These are Japanese-issued versions of albums by Western performers and bands, identical in content, usually with similar or identical printing, but with a distinctive obi, a colored strip on the spine on which information about the release is applied in Japanese.

⸜ Audio Lab Record. Record and again Kunihiko Sugano

It has become accepted that titles released in Japan sound better than those from outside of it. And it's not even about the technologically much better SHM-CD, Blu-Spec CD2 or UHQCD, but about ordinary Compact Discs. I have checked this many times, and still today I first look for a Japanese release, and only then, if I can't find one, do I reach for a release from another country. The reasons for this are manifold, but the most common one points to a much more rigorous, even fanatical attention to detail, which makes the Japanese masters in many fields, including LP and CD pressing (yes, silver discs also have a metal master).

The 144th edition of the Krakow Sonic Society, however, was conceived as a musical encounter with music of Japan, that is, played by artists from that country and - with two or three exceptions - recorded and released there as well. Indeed, the Japanese islands witnessed the birth of both local jazz and specific recording techniques.

Jazz had been present on the radio and in this country's publications since the end of World War II, and its source was the presence of U.S. Army soldiers, their families and officials; let me remind you that the U.S. occupation lasted from September 2nd 1945, until the Treaty of San Francisco took effect on April 28th 1952. However, it was not until the late 1960s that a change in approach to the recording process occurred.

Based mainly on American products, 3M, Skully and Ampex tape recorders, with an exception for the Philips brand, Quad and Ampex mixers, and microphones from Altec, Sony, Electro-Voice, as well as classics - AKG and Neumann - recording engineers developed techniques that made the 70s considered a "golden period" in Japanese jazz. It was then that that some famous labels were born such as TRIO RECORDS, owned by electronics manufacturer Trio Electronics, Inc. later known as Trio-Kenwood Corporation and now known as Kenwood (September 1969), and Mr. Okihiko Sugano's JAPAN AUDIO LABORATORY, founded the same year, changed its name to AUDIO LAB in 1971. RECORD.

This is not to forget that the long-established NIPPON COLUMBIA label, known in the West as DENON, which in January 1971 released the world's first LP for which the material was recorded on a digital tape recorder. The same label was thriving in the late 1960s with the Takt Jazz Series. Interestingly, both for Denon, for the Trio, and for its own label, the best recordings were prepared by, the aforementioned, Sugano-san.

However, nothing can compare to the popularity and "iconic status" of the THREE BLIND MICE label. The Wikipedia entry mentioned before says only that it was founded in 1970 by Takeshi "Tee" Fujii, the producer of all its records, and that it aimed to make available the work of young musicians who had no chance of being signed to any of the major labels. One of its special features was to be the recording technique it developed on its own.

The name "Three Blind Mice" refers to two sources. The first is an English nursery rhyme, sung for voices. In Japan, however, it was known from Disney's 1936 animated film Three Blind Mouseketeers, in which the musketeers were the three mice. Let's add that in modern times this motif was repeated in the Shrek series of films, where this, adorable, trio also appears.

⸜ Technics RS-1500 tape recorder (modified by dc-components)

A more accurate origin of the label's name, referring to a Disney film, is given by Mr. Winston Ma, owner of the First Impression Music label. As an acquaintance of Mr. Takeshi Fujii, who publishes reissues of TMB albums with Tsuyoshi Yamamoto, in the booklet accompanying The TBM Sounds! he wrote:

I asked him (Takeshi Fujii - ed.) once how he got such a name - TBM - an acronym for Three Blind Mice - because, after all, it was clear that Tee was not blind.

Its history is linked to the fact that he started the label with two friends. The trio were amateurs in the music publishing business world and, Tee said, they were like three blind mice. And he also knew that this children's tale is associated with a Japanese proverb: "A blind man is not afraid of a snake."

⸜ WINSON MA, Mr. TBM, booklet for the album The TBM Sounds!, Lasting Impression Music LIM UHD 048, 2010, pp. 1-2.

Mr. Fujii-san has made no secret of the fact that the reference and benchmark for him was the Blue Note label and the sound, which was created by Rudy Van Gelder; more about RVG → HERE. This is why it is often called the Japanese Blue Note, and wrongly so. RVG primarily recorded at its home studio, while the Japanese label chose well-known Tokyo studios, such as AOI Studio, as recording locations, and when necessary, recordings were made during concerts. Differences in sound philosophy were also immediately apparent. While Van Gelder recorded sound directly on stereo tape, TBM records were recorded on multi-track tape recorders.

For the AOI Studio recordings, it was a six-track tape recorder from 3M, running at 76 cm/sec, the mastering tape recorder was a Philips PRO-51 (38 cm/sec), and the MM-II mixer from the same company. Altec 604E speakers were used for listening. Each time, however, the system depended on the studio of choice. On the sound side, it was all tied together by Mr. YOSHIHIKO KANNARI, responsible for most TBM recordings. And he is the author of such a characteristic "TBM sound", somewhat similar, to that developed in Europe, at the same time, by Manfred Eichert for his ECM (more about that label → HERE.

The most important period for this label is from 1970, when its first Kosuke Mine Quintet album Mine was released (TBM-1), to 1976, when Isoo Fukui Quartet Sunrise Sunset was released with the last double-digit number (TBM-78). Interesting, but this coincides, to a large extent, with the timing of the most important titles of the "Polish Jazz" series, including the number of releases. The most important musicians recording for TBM at the time were Isao Suzuki, Tsuyoshi Yamamoto, Mari Nakamoto, Hiroshi Fukumura, Hidefumi Toki, Takao Uematsu, Teruo Nakamura, Yoshio Otomo, Takashi Mizuhashi, who made their debuts there, as well as George Kawaguchi, Terumasa Hino and Masaru Imada.

After 1973, a new series was launched, with a four-digit number, and since 1979 with a letter (P). The Japanese-language Wikipedia page says that after the CD hit the market in the 1980s, the label's importance diminished. It then focused on reissues of its catalog, abandoning the recording of new material. The first release on CD came in 1988, and XRCDs started coming out in the mid-1990s.

Perhaps thanks to Japanese JVC studio reissues, interest in this TBM's albums has grown so much that in 1998 Takeshi "Tee" Fujii prepared a compilation of his favorite tracks. He chose a wide range of recordings from 1973-1978 for the resulting album, which he titled The Famous Sound of Three Blind Mice, Vol. 1. 1 Included are some of his most popular songs, such as: Blow Up, Misty, The Lady Is a Tramp, Scandinavian Suite and Midnight Sunrise.

Over time, it proved not enough to run a profitable business, and despite support from labels such as Cisco (today Impex, 2003 45 rpm versions, and 2017 titles on LP and HDCD gold discs), LAST IMPRESSION MUSIC (CDs, XRCDs and XRCD24), and German publishers, where TBM was particularly popular, in 2014 it had to declare bankruptcy.

Rights to its catalog and archive were purchased by SONY MUSIC JAPAN. Between 2006 and 2007, it released 23 SACDs, and between 2013 and 2014, 69 titles were reissued by THINK! RECORDS, part of the Disc Union label (on Blu-spec discs). In 2019, Craftman Records released the Three Blind Mice Supreme Collection 1500 series: with forty titles. We should add that two titles have also been released remastered by HARMONIX, as part of its MASTER MUSIC label, on both XRCD24 and LP discs (review of Seiichi Nakamura Quintet + 2 The BossHERE).

TBM originally released its titles on LP discs, and some, selected titles, on tape - these were copies of the production "master" tape, stereo, two-track, 38 cm/sec. The reissues were given the symbols TBM (P), 15PJ, PAP, TBM-30 (Cisco) and IMP (Impex) for LPs, and TBM-CD, TBM-XR (JVC, XRCD), THCD (Think! Records), FIM SACD (FIM) or IMP (Impex). Some have been reissued only once, for example, MASARU IMADA TRIO & SHIGEKO TOYA Yokohama Concert (TBM-22, 1973), while others have been reissued many times; for example, TSUYOSHI YAMAMOTO TRIO Misty (TBM-30, 1974) has as many as eighteen versions plus the original and tape.

AUDIO LAB. RECORD • Three Blind Mice is the most well-known domestic jazz music label from Japan, but absolutely not the only one and not exactly "the best sounding" either. Thinking of it that way one would miss many other equally deserving labels, such as Nippon Columbia Co., Ltd. or Denon, with the technological breakthrough of the digital sound recorders it developed, the Takt Jazz Series, owned by the same label, with its excellent titles, and Trio Records. Artists such as Takao Uematsu, Takehiro Honda, Nobuo Hara & His Sharps & Flats, Masaru Imada, Fumio Karashima and Ryo Fukui recorded for the latter. This was also the time when many Japanese studios recorded albums using direct-to-disc technology.

TONY HIGGINS in his article I Loves You Obi adds Frasco and East Wind to this group as well. The latter, known for its excellent records, was formed in 1974 as a off-shoot of the Nippon Phonogram label:

It was set up in part to promote Japanese artists overseas and its releases are among the easiest to source due to their wider distribution and promotion; many also saw a US issue on Inner City. East Wind albums were created by an array of Japanese jazz musicians including Sadao Watanabe, Mikio Masuda, Masabumi Kikuchi, Shunzo Ohno, Terumasa Hino and Kohsuke Mine as well as distinguished American artists such as Oliver Nelson, Sam Jones, Junior Mance, Ronnie Mathews, Don Friedman, Art Farmer and Cedar Walton. Most of the catalogue has been reissued on CD in recent years but the original LPs are well presented and, as ever, sound exquisite.

⸜ TONY HIGGINS, I Loves You Obi, "Record Collector," November 2nd 2016, →, accessed 18.01.2024).

However, if I had to choose one label that not only was not inferior in sound quality to Three Blind Mice's records, and often surpassed it, it would be AUDIO LAB. RECORD. Its founder and sound engineer was Mr. OKIHIKO SUGANO (1932-2018). His first recordings were made in 1968, when he shone with sound realizations on the Nippon Columbia label's Takt Jazz Series records. In turn, his adventure with his own record label began in 1969, when he founded the Japan Audio Laboratory, which changed its name to Audio Lab. Record in 1971. We should add that he also recorded for other labels, and he was also valued as a mixing engineer. Albums with his material were released, for example, by the Trio label.

⸜ CECILA TAYLOR album recorded by Mr. Okihiko Sugano for Trio label

Mr. Sugano's recording technique was significantly different from that known from TBM releases. First of all, he recorded directly on two tracks, or if the recording was to be quadraphonic - on four. He did the mixing "live", using simple eight-channel mixers. In this respect, he would be similar in work to Rudy Van Gelder and extremely different from what TBM developed. He also differed from both techniques in that he recorded only in concert halls, without the use of reverbs, limiters and compressors. His most frequent venues were Lino Hall, Aoyama Tower Hall and Toshi Centre Hall.




⸜ ISAO SUZUKI TRIO/QUARTET, Blow Up, Three Blind Mice UL38-0015, 10,5” Reel-To-Reel, kopia (1973).
⸜ KUNIHIKO SUGANO TRIO +1, Love Is A Many Splendored Thing Live in "5 Days In Jazz 1974"
The Famous Sound Of Three Blind Mice Vol. 1, Three Blind Mice/Impex Records ‎IMP6027, 2 x 180 g LP (2018).
⸜ YAMA & JIRO’S WAVE, Girl Talk, Three Blind Mice/Cisco TBM-2559-45, Limited Edition #0080, 45 rpm, 180 g, 2 x LP, (1975/2006).
⸜ DUKE JORDAN TRIO, So Nice Duke, Three Blind Mice | Trio Records/Master Music MSA-001, “Harmonix Master Sound”, 180 g LP (2017)

⸜ STEVE MARCUS, JIRO INAGAKI & SOUL MEDIA, Something, Nippon Columbia NCB-7003, (1971).
⸜ TERUMASA HINO, Swing Journal Jazz Workshop 1 – Terumasa Hino Concert, Nippon Columbia COCY-80505, „Tact Jazz Series”, CD-on Demand, CD-R (1969/2000).
⸜ KUNIHIKO SUGANO, Portrait – The World Of Kunihiko Sugano, Audio Lab. Record ALJ-1014, LP (1974).
⸜ TAKESHI INOMATA AND HIS FRIENDS, Get Happy, Audio Lab. Record ALJ-1030, LP (1975).
⸜ CECIL TAYLOR, Solo, Trio Records PA-7067, LP (1973).


SESSION II. Second Wave

THE DECADE OF THE 1980s, WHEN THE TBM label had fewer and fewer hit releases, passed under the sign of the CD format. The first title released by TBM on this medium came as early as 1982 and was Bi-Bop '82 by KENJI MORI QUINTET (PAP-25021). The same is true of Mr. Sugano's label. In the late 1970s, he puts out Audio Lab. Record and in 1983, under the new Sugano Disc label, releases his first digital recording, made on U-matic tapes. It was a two-part disc of recordings by pianist RUDOLF FIRKUSNY. After that, he stops recording, focusing on his journalistic work for Stereo Sound magazine.

In those years, Japanese publishers specialized in CD reissues, and when they released LPs they used digital mastering for them. New Japanese titles continued to be released, but they failed to capture the interest of audiences outside Japan and, with exceptions, are poorly represented in the West. The 1990s and then the 2000s only exacerbated the collapse of the vinyl market, resulting in the "disappearance" of sophisticated recording techniques and the lack of enthusiasts to develop them.

⸜ The meeting was also an opportunity to welcome two new members to the KTS - pictured here is DAMIAN

Slowly but steadily, however, a new quality was building, with new labels and new names taking lead. As early as 1983, DIW Records was founded, focusing on avant-garde jazz, from which several spin-offs emerged, such as Jazz Tokyo. In 1992, Venus Records was founded by Mr. TETSUO HARA, previously working as a producer for RCA Victor. It was one of the first new companies to focus primarily on sound quality and to record its own material. In the same year, Mr. MASAMICHI OHASHI inaugurates BRIPHONIC, his life's work. Interestingly, it provides services to other publishers, and has only four (!) titles in its catalog, but fantastic ones! In the process, Mr. Onashi-san has developed his own way of recording.

Recording sound in analog domain, it uses modified multitrack and stereo tape recorders. The former uses 2" wide tape, on which it records only eight tracks, when the standard was 16-track recording (as in TBM) or 24-track recording, as in almost all others. Eight tracks wide means much lower noise and distortion. The material is mixed analog to a Studer A-80 Mk IV stereo tape recorder. But instead of ¼ or even ½" tape, it uses1" tape with custom-made heads. For two tracks. No wonder Briphonic calls them both "Monster Analog Machines".

Let’s add that this label records digitally as well, in DSD 256 (11.3 MHz). Interestingly, it only releases CDs and files on flash drives. But the CDs are unique. In addition to regular pressed discs, Briphonic also offers Master CD-Rs on a gold discs, as well as - at just under $10,000 - Master Glass CD-Rs.

One of the latest releases focused on high quality sound, and originated in Japan, is ULTRA ART RECORD, founded by two friends, Messrs. HARUO USHIO-san and REIJI ASAKURA-san. It was established in 2017 and has just two titles to its credit: MIE JOKÉ’s Etrenne, subtitled 11 Songs for Music and Sound Lovers, and MICHIKO OGAWA’s Balluchon, each in several formats: LP and HQCD or UHQCD, and on SACD. It is one of the absolute few companies that also has a 12" 78 RPM maxi-series.

Their recordings are made in studios, with analog reverbs. An exceptional team is responsible for the recordings. Ms. Mie-san's album was recorded simultaneously in analog and digital domain. The analog recording used a Studer A-800 24-track tape recorder with two-inch tape (30 ips), and the digital version was recorded with the DAW ProTool system in 32-bit, 192 kHz PCM files. The UHQCD (Ultimate Hi-Quality CD) was the first to be released. In addition to it, a 180g LP version is also available, with a different cover, for which the material was mixed analog to ¼" master tape.

Ms. Michiko Ogawa's album, on the other hand, was recorded on what the label calls "One Take Recording," using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) recorder from Pyramix at 384 kHz, 32-bit resolution. The sound engineer (mixer) was TOSHIYASU SHIOZAWA, an award-winning sound engineer working for Nippon Columbia (Denon). Mr. HIDEAKI TAKASE was responsible for the DAW system recording, and the varnish was cut by Mr. SHIGERU BUZAWA of Nippon Columbia. The recordings were made at Yoyongi Studio (Pony Canyon).

And, finally, let's say a word about reissues of Western releases, but made by special labels. One of them is Stereo Sound Publishing, the publishing "branch" of Stereo Sound magazine. It publishes LPs and SACDs, including single-layer, in the series "Analog Record Collection," "Stereo Sound Reference Record," etc. The second such label is Esoteric.

In 1997, Esoteric celebrated its anniversary with the P-0 transport, which encapsulated the full extent of its expertise. The 20th anniversary was celebrated just as lavishly, giving the world the VRDS-NEO drive and the players based on it, but also by starting the Master Sound Works series. The first title, bearing an appropriate anniversary logo by the way, was Overtures by Ludwig van Beethoven, conducted by Sir Colin Davis. The disc bore the catalog number TDGD-90013. Unfortunately, I don't know the earlier titles that "thirteen" seems to suggest.

In the booklet of the first disc with the Esoteric logo I have, released on the occasion of the brand's 20th anniversary, we find a list of the equipment that served to monitor the work on the remastering process. Among those responsible for this release, the most important was, already cited several times, Mr. Okihiko Sugano. However, it is also important that this is the first and last Esoteric album remastered at Sony studios. For many years to come, the label used JVC studios, and the engineer it chose to work with it was Mr. KAZUIE SUGIMOTO, who had previously worked at the JVC Mastering Center.

After Mr. Sugimoto's passing, wanting to become independent of outside sound engineers, Esoteric finally built its own mastering studio (more → HERE). Officially, it did not yet have such a name, but it was treated as such. While the JVC studios used only D/A converters and a clock from Esoteric, as well as its cables, manufactured by Acrolink (Mexcel series), the in-house studio could also reach for amplifiers, an SACD player and, above all, go for its own mastering platform.



Playback At Jazz Kissa Basie, Universal Classic & Jazz ‎UCJU-9102, 180 g LP (2020).

⸜ EDDIE HIGGINS QUARTET, My Foolish Heart, Venus Records TKCV-35532, Gold CD (2003/2005).
⸜ MAYO NAKANO PIANO TRIO, Sentimental Reasons, Briphonic BRPN-7006, Master CD-R (2017).
⸜ MAYO NAKANO PIANO TRIO, Miwaku, Briphonic Records BRPN-7007GL, EXTREME HARD GLASS CD-R (2019).
⸜ MIE JOKÉ, Etrenne. 11 Songs for Music and Sound Lovers Ultra Art Record UA-1005, 180 g LP (2017).
⸜ TSUYOSHI YAMAMOTO TRIO, Misty For Direct Cutting, Somethin' Cool SCLP-1055, Direct-to-disc, 180 g, 45 rpm LP (2021).

⸜ FALLA, The Three Cornered Hat, wyk. Ansermet, L'Orchestre De La Suisse Romande, Teresa Berganza, Decca/Esoteric Company ESLP-10003, „Esoteric Master Sound Works”, 200 g LP (1960/2009).
⸜ FRANK SINATRA, Sinatra at the Sands, Universal Music/Stereo Sound SSAR-065~066, 2 x 140 g LP (1960/2022).
⸜ ISAO SUZUKI TRIO/QUARTET, Blow Up, Three Blind Mice, 10,5” Reel-To-Reel, kopia cyfrowego mastera XRCD (1973/1997).



JAREK WASZCZYSZYN ⸜ Ancient Audio/KTS • The meeting was amazing. Different than usual, no comparisons. Wojtek simply shared with us his passion - Japan. And especially Japanese jazz. It wasn't a lecture, it was about his personal love and passion. And this is a theme that sticks in my mind in general, and after the last KSS session in particular. If I wrote everything that was in my head, I wouldn't have time until the next meeting.... And on top of that, the pace was killer. Nevertheless, I'm trying, with the help of photos and a list of recordings, to decipher what we listened to and what I liked.

And I liked everything. The CD-R Swing Journal Jazz Workshop 1 by TERUMASA HINO played outstandingly, which cemented me in my work on new CD players. But most impressive was the first digitally recorded album, STEVE MARCUS, JIRO INAGAKI & SOUL MEDIA's Something. It was 13 bits!!! 32 kHz!!! I was shocked realizing how far behind the sound of modern 32-bit files is.

Well, then we come to the heart of the meeting. Japanese jazz is a phenomenon. It started in the officers' cantinas of the occupying army, where Yankees would not have digested, after "a day of hard and dangerous work", some Japanese sound. At first Americans played American records, then radio from the Far East Network. Later live performances began, with popular music that was jazz at the time. And all watched closely by the Japanese to understand how barbarians from a country that didn't exist 200 years earlier had defeated an empire where the emperor was a god. The Japanese didn't seem to feel the blues. Only modern, ascetic jazz, where silence was as important as sound, "surprised" them.

And here is another phenomenon - recordings. Writing about the history of digital recording, Wojtek mentioned Japanese pioneering work. And about the conglomerate of money-organizations-passionate people. I am currently rereading Walter Isaacson's books Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs and Innovators. This is a perfect primer for our meeting. Well, the world can only be changed by a rare deal, a rare conglomerate. Money alone is not enough, because despite billions of yen spent, Japan does not have its Silicon Valley. An outstanding mind alone won't push progress either - Leonardo da Vinci's influence on science and technology was nonexistent. The most creative innovator without money and efficient organization is just a local attraction.

⸜ And another new KSS member: TOMEK

And yet - Japan, a country not particularly innovative, rose to the forefront of recording technology. At the right time, money, organizations and personal passion came together. (By the way, this is also a phenomenon: as if to celebrate the 144th session of KSS, we are a unique convergence - the most respected, I really think so, audio club in the world. No one has managed to repeat it. Only in Krakow did as many components come together).

And why did I get so worked up? Well, the world has money (more than we think), it also has efficient organizations (large corporations). But it lacks passionate people, lacks innovators, lacks visionaries. One Musk has no competition. Therefore, instead of progress, there is regression in so many areas. None of the new records thrill us like those from 1955-75. I go back to the records from small labels such as TBM, Alpha or Aliavox often. The productions of modern giants I usually listen to only once or twice. And that's it. The situation is similar in regard when it comes to audio components.

To sum up: respect the money, respect the organizations. Let's respect the enthusiasts as well. They confuse a Rolls-Royce with a rolmops. They leave not only shoes but also socks in random places. They salt their tea. They put the cordless kettle on the gas stove. They abuse this and that. They don't respect Revealed Truths. They refuel, and forget to pay. They laugh when they shouldn’t. Because they thing about things other people don’t even dream about. They are indispensable.

ARTUR REICH ⸜ Audio Video Summit • During the listening, I was struck, in terms of sound quality, by maybe three, top four tracks. I can't recall them now by titles, but it was certainly one of the last - listening from reel-to-reel tape recorder. Also in the middle of the sessions there was a CD that qualified for "analog" sound. Also an LP from the TBM label - at the very beginning.

But, in general, I cannot understand the admiration for most Japanese LPs. For example, I was disappointed by the piano recording on YAMA & JIRO'S WAVE Girl Talk, which in many descriptions is regarded as the absolute top piano recording "ever". I didn't hear it. On the contrary.

On the other hand, the idea and execution of such a show of consecutive LPs from such unique labels was fantastic and completely unique. I am very glad that I was able to experience it. For me, it was a very enlightening lesson during which the myth of perfection and brilliant sound of every Japanese recording and pressing fell. However, one must be guided by one's own hearing and taste in the selection of recordings and music.

MARCIN ⸜ KSS • This KSS meeting was completely different from all previous ones. We didn't make comparisons of one piece to another trying to judge musical qualities. We simply listened to what Wojtek had prepared. And he prepared a lot.

I don't want to go into details and will only focus on the first part, because this one impressed me the most. What I heard with the Three Blind Mice label releases was simply brilliant. And it's hard to believe that when the founders started their business they didn't have much experience. Of course, one can object that the masters was "pushed" to the limits, but in my opinion, the engineers did not cross that thin line at any point. The whole, to me, always sounded perfect. There was "drive", there was punch and there was emotion. I listened fullu focused waiting for what would come next.

The works from the Nippon Columbia label sounded very good. Of course, there were other well-executed recordings, but I didn't take note of everything and I don't want to get something wrong now. On the other hand, I completely misunderstood the intention of the creators of the Playback At Jazz Kissa Basie album. I could consider it a joke, but they supposedly recorded it seriously.

DANIEL • First of all - I really liked the format of the meeting. Some information about the album and label + some tidbits to give context to the recording, and then listening = great stuff.

This was the first time I heard the sound of the labels in question, of which I was seduced by the sound of Three Blind Mice, very accurate and detailed although not yet overdone. The accuracy and detail in their recordings was amazing. By far my favorite recording listened to at the meeting was the one from Yama & Jiro Wave's Girl Talk album. Beautiful and even soul-grabbing sound and composition. The sound of the double bass in this recording will long be stuck in my memory.

The next discussed labels were no longer as spectacular for me, but I very much enjoyed Audio Lab Record's Portrait - The World Of Kunihiko with its wonderful sounding piano, as well as the Miwaku from the Briphonic label in which the drum sounds were simply insane. Of the recordings that stuck in my memory, I will also mention the Playback At Jazz by Kissa Basie. A very interesting idea by the Japanese, but the effects are unfortunately mediocre, in my opinion. It's more of a curiosity than an album to listen to.

It was also the first time I had the opportunity to listen to a tape recorder. What I liked about the meeting was the selection of recordings, some faster, some slower, some solo piano, some orchestra, even avant-garde - something nice for everyone :) In summary: a very interesting and enjoyable meeting with interesting information and great music on impressive equipment.

TOMASZ HATYLAK ⸜ Radio359 • This was my first Krakow Sonic Society meeting. I am well acquainted with the accounts of previous meetings presented in the pages of "High Fidelity", so I thought I knew what to expect. However, the wonderful atmosphere, the friendliness of the hosts (greetings to Julian and Małgorzata) and the phenomenal musical experience exceeded my expectations.

After those few days from Saturday, January 20th, what stayed in my memory above all were the fantastically deep and three-dimensional sound of the double bass played with string legato (Blow Up from the tape at the beginning of the presentation), the extraordinary sound of the presented LPs from the Three Blind Mice label and the surrealistic almost musical otherness of the presented jazz. By this I mean the immediately legible otherness, the "singularity" of this work, which evokes analogies to the sound of Polish jazz of the 1970s in relation to what was happening in the mainstream in the US at the time. My frail musicological conceptual apparatus often got off: do I associate Tsuyoshi Yamamoto with the playing displayed by Ahmad Jamal in his trio in the late 1960s? Or is it something else, though?

I must congratulate editor Wojciech Pacula for his excellent presentation. Erudite freedom, subjective judgments and details that opened my eyes wide. I listened to excerpts from the presented albums with full commitment, occasionally checking, albeit with dwindling hope, if any of the tracks were available in the streaming resources linked to the Shazam app - well, no, none were available. This shows that A.D. 2024 music resources on streaming services still aren't enough.

Excellent evening, great pleasure and great inspiration!

JANUSZ TUCHOWSKI ⸜ • It's probably better to record the feelings live, because time flies and memory is unreliable, but what I remember you will find below.

⸜ TBM: While the three mice were blind, deaf they certainly were not. "Japanese Blue Note," there's something about that. I was surprised by lesser-known albums like Girl Talk, where one can, of course, complain about some technical shortcomings of the recording itself, but its content - something beautiful. I have to explore the rest of the items in TBM's catalog, or at least hunt for the excellent compilation The Famous Sound Of Three Blind Mice.

⸜ NIPPON COLUMBIA: Terumasa Hino's Swing Journal Jazz Workshop 1 - a lot of energy (!), and beautiful timbre, dynamics, resolution!

⸜ Total surprises are:
- an album recorded in a club where the music was played, I don't remember which one it was (it's about the Playback At Jazz Kissa Basie - ed.)
- a release of music recorded digitally at a resolution laughable for any audiophile (by the way, if I hadn't known it earlier I probably wouldn't have caught it... (this is about the Steve Marcus, Jiro Inagaki & Soul Media’s Something - ed.).

JULIAN SOJA ⸜ Soyaton • This was a special meeting. It's been a long time since we had a purely musical one, dedicated solely to music and albums, and I think we all missed it. OK, for me there was a tiny hardware accent to it because we listened to records played on my new turntable (which had debuted at the previous meeting), but with a changed tonearm and cartridge. I don't know about my colleagues, but I think it performed downright phenomenal in this configuration.

As part of the meeting program, Wojtek took us on an extraordinary journey through Japan, its trends, releases, jazz stars, but also some of its eccentricities. The first part was originally supposed to be dedicated to the TBM (Three Blind Mice) releases, but in making the record selection Wojtek decided that it would be boring and one-sided, because there were many more interesting releases in Japan during the TBM years, even more interesting than TBM’s.

I must admit that I listened to both the lecture and the music with great interest and pleasure (especially since we listened to whole tracks, and not - as in the case of equipment tests - two-minute excerpts), some of these releases I knew before, others not, nevertheless this thesis (about the superiority of other releases) in my opinion completely failed to defend itself. TBM was the only one, the unique one, the best one - and I will stick to this version. I have about 40 vinyls of the 76 released in their core catalog, and so far I haven't heard anything that I would consider better or more interesting among the Japanese releases of those years. Maybe it's just that (like Engineer Mamoń) I like most the tunes I already know? Then again, I am similarly unconvinced by the Cisco/Impex reprints - they are of course excellent, often at 180/200g and 45 RPM, but in direct comparison I will always choose the original.

In the second part we moved to modern Japan, and here too it was extremely interesting, I would even say tasty. Well, except maybe for an oddity in the form of a vinyl-released recording of a listening session in a Japanese club or cafe. The idea is that the originators fired up a system with JBL speakers at the venue and recorded the sound (in simple terms) from microphones attached to those JBL speakers. That is, we listened from vinyl to what an album played from vinyl record sounded like in a Japanese club. It reminded me of when, a very long time ago, I was a child, and I recorded probably one of the Opole festivals by placing a Grundig radio-cassette recorder to the TV speaker. But aside from the nostalgic memory, it's still (in European culture, because in Japanese culture not necessarily at all) a quirk and that's it.

The standouts and memorable ones for me were certainly the sensational Venus Records (which, like TBM, share a certain specific sound), Briphonic (especially from the glass CD, which I had never encountered before) and the Three Cornered Hat album released by Esoteric.

The buckle that tied the listening together was the album's opening track Blow Up performed by the ISAO SUZUKI TRIO/QUARTET (TBM), which we listened to in two versions, from tape - at the beginning of the first session it was a copy of a tape sold commercially in the 1970s. by TBM (2-track, 10.5", 38 cm/s), and at the end of the second session a tape recorded from a digital file (master to XRCD version) and both sounded phenomenal.

I hope that we will have a chance to experience more such journeys in time and space thanks to Wojtek - I, for example, would love to go on such a musical journey through Scandinavia.