Sunaga t Experience - Suomenlinna

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"Suomenlinna" is the latest album under producer/DJ Sunaga Tatsuo's Sunaga t Experience moniker, and is arguably his boldest, most inventive work yet, with 34 musicians/artists from all over the world participating in a musical exploration of everything from jazz, latin, j-pop, rock, world music and electronica.

With a career spanning over 30 years, Sunaga Tatsuo is quite a character, starting out as a punk DJ before branching into hip hop, latin and jazz. There is likely nothing he doesn't know when it comes to music, and his network seems to reach every corner of this country. And every once in a while, he picks up the phone and gathers up a variety of musical talent to put together a Sunaga t' Experience record.

In 2019, perhaps we have the internet and technology to thank for Suomenlinna, because I have no idea how you could pull together this many people from so many different areas for a single project. Previously, Sunaga t Experience albums tended to be heavy on the jazz with regular collaborators like Akiko and Arvin Homa Aya, but Suomenlinna is a lot more diverse. The list of participants includes the Five Corners Quintet from Finland, vocalists Emily Styler, ChihiRo (JiLL- Decoy association), Anna Sato from Amami-oshima and SARA, house duo Studio Apartment, the majority of Blu-Swing, legendary guitarist Shunji Takenaka and more.

This results in tracks like "Ibitsu na Kajitsu," which has a jazzy melody sung by ChihiRo over a ska shuffle, only to switch midway to 90's stadium rock with chunky riffs from Shunji Takenaka and back. Or the cinematic epic "Futa_Ara" powered by Anna Sato's spiritual vocals, which is then followed by a freeform jazz version of prog rock band Kansas' "On the other side." At the same time, there's a few more accessible numbers than in previous albums like the bossa version of Remioromen's major hit "Konayuki," the upbeat "Alvo" and a jazz samba version of anime classic "Sasuke." Sprinkled throughout are classic Sunaga touches like drum loops, vocal samples and satellite signals, as if to remind you who's in charge.

That last point is important, because while each of these artists do their own thing in their respective fields, it's Sunaga who brings them all together, with the vision and drive to complete the finished work. You get to see sides of people and music you may never have before, and that's always been Sunaga's superpower. That being said, a lot of credit also has to go to the talented Maki Mannami, who did a lot of the writing, including some of the lyrics for the songs.

But why I have enjoyed this particular Sunaga t experience album perhaps the most of his works, other than the sheer variety, is the emotional weight of two particular songs, "Rogue" with Studio Apartment, and "Yureru" with vocals by SARA. "Rogue" comes from a bunch of guys who have been through a lot in life, who have enjoyed great success but maybe made a few mistakes along the way. "It was an experience that taught humanity," they say, and they've come back scarred but stronger. Meanwhile "Yureru" is a lovely piece about being lost "like a clam in the vast sea" and trying to make a new start in life. Both songs deal with adversity and bring messages of hope - this is definitely an album made by adults.

It is perhaps fitting that Suomenlinna is the image for the album, a beautiful castle with a rich history and many hidden secrets to explore. This is a deep, rich album where you'll make all sorts of discoveries and it offers so many rabbit holes you could get lost in (honestly, I didn't know half of these musicians before listening). Lucky for us, Sunaga Tatsuo is our guide - with his connections and unparalleled musical sense, you get an experience like no other.

Royce Leong