Recorded guerrilla-style in Chiba and Tokyo, Japan during the first wave of the pandemic with gear purchased largely from thrift shops, The Producer’s Workshop Ensemble in Japan is the quintessential DIY joint – grimy, haphazard, and flawed with a soft sincerity.
Bless The Mad’s Matthew Rivera arrived in Japan only days before the first wave of of the pandemic in March of 2020. Too restless to stay put for very long, he had moved from Chicago to work a short-term contract at a University near Tokyo. To be close to his new job, Rivera found himself living in Chiba prefecture among a sea of white public housing danchis from the 1960s, one exactly like the next.
It wasn't long before the isolation, stress, and loneliness of pandemic life in a new country, compounded by the death of his father only weeks later, began eating away at his sanity. Rivera decided to put his energy into what he thought of as a sort of musical self-study project, reconstructing beloved tunes on piano, bass, and drums in an effort to improve his musicianship and distract himself as best he could.
After dozens of trips to junk shops for cheap instruments and recording gear (a favorite pastime), he filled cassettes with covers of tunes by Weldon Irvine, Stevie Wonder, and Curtis Mayfield. Before long he was lugging bags filled with his thrift shop hauls (4-track tape machines, compressors, faulty cables, mics) to several of Tokyo’s pay-by-the-hour music rehearsal studios where he would have access to real instruments like grand pianos and drum sets. He spent full days there working on what is now The Producer's Workshop Ensemble in Japan.
Musical contributions and collaborations soon trickled in, and what had started as a series of simple private experiments for Rivera alone, developed over the course of the pandemic into what is now a full-fledged album (or at least partially-fledged) with a rare appearance from sometimes STC collaborator, Lito Brown on wah-wah flute and alto sax, as well as additional contributions from several talented Japanese musicians: Tetsuta Otachi (guitar); Yuki Nakada (koto); Takehide Hashimoto (tenor sax); Kyotaro Hori (flugelhorn); and Yuima Enya (lyrics/vocals).
-Sandalio De Díaz