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Yamatai Album Cover
Wappa Gappa: Yamatai
Image © 1996 Air From Mt Fuji

A Myth Album Cover
Tamami Yamamoto
Image © 2000 Wappa Gappa

(06 August 2000) Progressive rock band Wappa Gappa's debut album Yamatai (Air From Mt Fuji (Japan) AIR-5001, 1996) is comprised of eight vocally-laced progressive rock tracks. Formed originally in 1992, the Japanese musicians have released two albums to vast acclaim from the progressive music press. Reviews in Big Bang (Fr), Exposé (US), Harmonie (Fr), Progression (US), Metamusica (Br), Prog-résiste (Fr) and at the Dutch Progressive Rock Page (www) of their recordings have all been very favourable.

Fronted by stunning mezzo soprano Tamami Yamamoto, other band members include Keizo Endo (electric bass), Yasuhiro Tachibana (guitars), Hideaki Nagaike (keyboards) and Hiroshi Mineo (drums). Although almost all of the vocal work is in Japanese, the band's sound is somewhat influenced by other Japanese progressive bands as well as Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Yes. A strong similarity in sound to Argentina's Nexus (review) and Tamami's vocals to Nexus' vocalist Mariela González is evident from the outset.

Yamatai typifies Japanese progressive rock with lush keyboard-based instrumental arrangements and soaring vocals, often mixed right up where Musical Discoveries readers like them. Tamami Yamamoto's voice is smooth and strong, soloing without the need for backing vocals. Dynamic instrumentals are well played with individual members' parts contributing to the band's overall sound. Time signatures and melodies change frequently adding to the interest and progressive texture of the album.

Opening with the 11+ minute epic "Yamataikoku" (Yamatai country), individual Wappa Gappa band members take turn in demonstrating their musical prowess. The guitar solos and quiet instrumental supported vocal passages are especially notable. From Exposé, "Fans of Annie Haslam style singing should get this for the voice of Yamamoto alone." We couldn't agree more.

Styles vary with keyboard sounds as the eight tracks of the album develop. Almost every one has a solo section where instrumental excursions dominate creating a "stadium rock" atmosphere. Guitar solos, crisp percussion and harmonious keyboards contrast Tamami's lovely lead vocal. The album's quieter tracks feature the lead vocalist and further illustrate the band's virtuosity without letting the listener forget this is a progressive rock album. These include the sensitively sung "Yuki-bana" (Snowflakes) and highly atmospheric texture of "Angel's Song" (sung and spoken in English and Japanese with extensive vocalise) both somewhat reminscent of Quidam (studio album review, live album review).

Several tracks are most progressive in their construction and the similarity to the Nexus sound is uncanny. "Gereki no Hakobune" (An ark of rubble) and "Ngwachurei" (I miss you) [sung in Cantonese] certainly fit this category with their driving guitar parts, rich keyboard arrangements and powerful lead vocal. The evocative vocal in "Ngwachurei" is especially notable. This is contrasted with a jazz-oriented easy listening style, but not without Wappa Gappa's typical instrumental bridge, in "Amanogawa" (Milky way).

The closing track "Toughenkyo" (Shangri-La) is most symphonic with its dynamic melody and instrumental riffs driven equally by guitar and keyboard. Tamami's powerful vocal, sung in a lower register than most of the other tracks on the ablum, is more reminscent of Lana Lane (review) in the beginning of the track, but returns to her natural range as the track and album come to a close. The debut album from Wappa Gappa has something for every progressive rock listener; worth a cross-country journey it is certainly a must listen!

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