Formed in 1987 at Tokyo's University of Meiji, instrumental quartet Happy Family describe their music as chamber jazz-rock driven by the fast and heavy rhythms of hard rock. Reference points include Magma, Univers Zero, and Henry Cow, but Happy Family stake out their own turf with their stunning, sometimes furious, intensity. Founding members Kenichi Morimoto (keyboards), Shigeru Makino (guitar), and Tatsuya Miyano (electric fretless bass) were joined by drummer Keiichi Nagase in 1990. This lineup issued several tapes before releasing Happy Family on the Cuneiform label in 1995.
Takahiro Izutani replaced Makino, bringing a grittier sound to the group's second CD, Toscco, which Cuneiform released in 1997. Morimoto, himself a fan of jazz-rock, chamber rock, and avant rock, was credited with composing much of the group's material. On the first two Happy Family albums, Miyano exemplified the "zeuhl" style of Magma bassists Jannick Top and Bernard Paganotti. (Miyano was a member of Mekanik Kommandoh, a Magma cover band formed by Tatsuya Yoshida, leader of the Japanese punk-zeuhl group Ruins.) Drummer Nagase, designer of the band's album covers, contributed rhythmic complexity to the music.
Happy Family disbanded in the fall of 1998, but after a 14-year absence the group re-formed in 2012 with a lineup comprising Morimoto, Izutani, Nagase, and new bassist Hidemi Ichikawa. The third Happy Family album, Minimal Gods, arrived on Cuneiform in September 2014, and featured seven compositions penned by Izutani and three by Morimoto; the album's release turned out to be nicely timed, immediately preceding Happy Family's scheduled appearance at the first Rock in Opposition Japan festival, held at the Tsutaya O-East venue in Tokyo's Shibuya ward on November 15 and 16 of that year. ~ Jim Dorsch