[Music] Mondo Grosso's big world: a 90s Japanese acid jazz class act
Mondo Grosso, big world in Italian, Shinichi Osawa's other stage name is a band that I have cherished for the longest while in my obsession with Acid Jazz / Rare Grooves (or to everything related to Soul, Funk and R&B, really). Famous for his DJing skills, Osawa embarked on a musical adventure with Mondo Grosso – my interpretation is that the band's name hints to the fact they would be exploring sounds outside of Japan – that lead him to publish under his own record label and to collaborate with people like Monday Michiru, N'Dea Davenport (who has also sung for The Brand New Heavies) and Tania Maria. They produced some of the most iconic acid jazz, indebted to its roots in Funk, R&B, American Disco and, Brazilian Samba.
Here's my Mondo Grosso Spotify playlist and below you will find some of my comments on ten of my favorite Mondo Grosso songs.
(1) Spirit of Voyage with its mystical, almost eery, piano introduction sets the stage of what's to come. Percussion and bass come in and then you realize you are in the world of 90s acid jazz. When the horns and the vibraphone come in you feel you're in Young Disciple's, Galliano, Corduroy or even Brand New Heavies territory. From Japan comes out a very European acid jazz sound that makes you vibe.
(2) Closer, the homonym song to the 2004 album, a collaboration with the vocalist Monday Michiru, drags you in on a more R&B vibe with some Virtual Insanity type lyrics:
People don't really communicate with each other anymore ... the world is getting so virtual and people don't feel the pain anymore. We need to be touched to ease the pain, this is why the title of the album is called closer.
(3) A reinterpretation of Paulinho da Costa's Carnival of Colors is clearly a different jam. Borrowing from MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira), Samba and Bossa Nova colors, we hear a lively tune that might be perfect for a cocktail evening with some friends. Maybe even a hint to the Japanese diaspora in Brazil or even their fascination with their culture. To be thoroughly enjoyed with an Aperol at hand. The mastery of Shinichi Osawa as a great sampler – a music library – shines through with the choice of cover.
(4) 100% Woman Overtime from the Closer album follows the same R&B/Soul vibes as its homonym. The rhythm is moved forward by a thick bassline and accentuated in the off-beats of the percussion. The vocals are sweet but they contrast with lyrics that speak of the hardships of being a woman in the modern world: having to balance all aspects of life plus the expectations of society. 'Working hard to be a 100% woman overtime'.
(5) From 1995's 'Born Free', 'Move into the night' is a decade early to show some of the motives that we see in 'Closer'. The drums, bassline and vocal combo appears clearly here too. A different, move up-beat, less R&B like tune sounds refreshing within the mix.
(6) 'I can't go for that' from 'Closer' is one of the best re-interpretations that I've heard from this Hall & Oates classic. A stripped down version of the hook and a completely different more down-tempo vibe, this is another one that might go down easy to unwind after a hard day at work. It somehow still preserves the spirit of the original, in spite of only relying on the keyboards and sampled drums to drag you along.
(7) 'Invisible Man', from the 2004 single album, in its Mellow Yellow version sound to me like an instant 90s Acid Jazz classic. The elements of hip hop plus the horn section make up for an absolute jam. The type that you want to listen to when you are walking down the street at night. The original 'Invisible Man' seems flat in comparison to this version which, in ways, is simpler but more essential.
(8) The 'Invisible Man' album also includes a great tune called 'TREE, AIR, AND RAIN ON THE EARTH' that first appeared on their MARBLE album. In this version reminds me of Jamiroquai's 'Emergency on Planet Earth' – maybe because of the title (?) or maybe because of the bass, backup vocals and flute solo in Revolution 1993. The Brazilian style of 'TREE, AIR AND ...' bridge that sounds like a Pagode and the incorporation of a flute and a keyboard (Rhodes?) solo creates a great jazz ambiance.
(9) 'YELLOW NOTE (LIVE VERSION)' from their European Expedition Album is the most hard core acid jazz that you will find in this list. Sax, samples, percussion, keyboard and bassline all working tight to create a feel for the classic cadence and syncopation that you would expect from the most 'jazz' within a genre that borrows of soul/funk/hip-hop.
(10) We close with 'STAR SUITE (Shelter Album Mix). This is essentially music that tells bildungsroman story of a girl who rebels against her original culture only to find who she truly is again in the middle of the madness of the modern world. A beauty to listen intently to, for its over 10 minutes of duration.
See all of you in another adventure,