Japan's Makoto Shimizu may be best known for his ambient drum & bass tracks for LTJ Bukem's Good Looking label, but he shows both range and restraint on his latest outing for Apollo Records. Makoto's atmospheric singles "Far East" and "Enterprise" first appeared in record shops in 1999, alongside a growing GLR juggernaut of similar sounding artists such as Seba, Big Bud and Nookie, and Aquarius. Since then, he's expanded his palette and has gone on to release music in various tempos for labels such as DJ Marky's Innerground, Zinc's Bingo Beats, and his own recently founded imprint, Human Elements.
Inspired by fellow Japanese composer and electronic pioneer, Yellow Magic Orchestra's Ryuichi Sakamoto, Makoto takes texture and instrument placement as seriously as his mentor. Although his work can be densely layered with rainbow-hued pianos and synths, it's rarely cluttered or sonically overburdened. A fundamental quality of space informs this EP's five tracks, yet ethereal pads and dreamy atmospheres are Makoto's stock and trade, and those gifts are also employed with strong results here.
Energetic opener "Primitive" features a rattling Brazilian-percussion jazz rhythm, echoing trumpet blasts and understated, almost monotone synths. Its stripped-down arrangement is suited for maximum dancefloor reaction. The 130-bpm track is also intriguingly reminiscent of works by fellow Japanese electronic jazz-dance practitioners United Future Organization and Kyoto Jazz Massive, a compositional style that Makoto is equally adept at. "A Spiritual Thing," for instance, embraces jazz textures even more explicitly, building from a shuffling, staccato drum pattern accented by snare flams into a rich array of brass and synth chords. Again, a sparse arrangement allows percussive elements to roll along mesmerizingly toward a satisfying melodic breakdown. The song embodies the feel of London's Velvet Rooms sessions circa the mid 2000s, where artists like Dego and IG Culture established nu-jazz traditions.
Makoto returns to his foundational atmospheric blueprint on "Sapphire Eyes," a dreamy and melodic number that makes the most of lush synth chords and arpeggiating electric piano, with nods to Vangelis and Tomita's cinematic works. Though short, this beatless track is a memorable lullaby. In contrast, Balearic number "Planet" is the EP's weakest track, leaning toward bland new-age fusion, noodling electronic guitars and all.
Closer "Ritual" is another stripped-down, midtempo composition that begins with nature sounds, hand claps, echoing piano stabs, and vocal samples from jazz records, which all serve to illustrate the song's title and theme well. Later, a steady kick-drum rhythm propels the track into deep-house territory in the vein of Osunlade or Masters at Work. Ultimately, Primitive lives up to its title with simple, back-to-basics arrangements that make for effective club tracks and enjoyable listening.