A Cornelius concert at the Fillmore is great because Cornelius, a.k.a. Keigo Oyamada, appreciates the setting's history far better than your average rocker. It's also ideal because the venue is kitty-corner from Japantown, where the colors on the metal boxes containing pencils and crayons at the Kinokuniya stationery store aren't far logistically or in spirit from the drip-paint blue, yellow, red, and black on the cover of his latest album, Sensuous (Everloving).
Vivid color has long been important to Cornelius's aesthetic. I'll never forget the day I bought the initial, Japanese edition of his 1997 album Fantasma (Matador) at Kinokuniya's bookstore. I was blown away to discover that its Orangesicle packaging included a pair of white earphones and even more wowed when I put on those earphones and realized that Oyamada had used three-dimensional digital recording to chart new rock-and-space vistas.
A decade later Oyamada remains clear about his concepts, breaking down the differences between his last three albums in the simplest terms. "Fantasma was an album that included all sorts of information that was gathered and edited," he writes via e-mail when asked about his approach to music and visuals. "Point (Matador ) was an album that included information that was necessary, and it was arranged that way. Sensuous is like a brushed-up version of Point." Indeed, commencing with the breeze-grazed chimes of the title track and closing with the warm cyborg nighty-night of Oyamada's take on the Dean Martin chestnut "Sleep Warm," Sensuous finds a precise midpoint between Fantasma's meta-Disney excess and Point's sharp minimalism.
Filtered through e-mail channels, Oyamada is less forthcoming than I remember him being during a stroll through Chinatown one night around the time of Fantasma's United States release. He suggests that his wife, Takako Minekawa who hasn't released a recording under her own name since 2000's Maxi On, on Polygram will probably share her music with listeners again someday, noting that last year she recorded with Ryuichi Sakamoto. Oyamada says his son, Milo (named after the child of Planet of the Apes's Cornelius), is a fan of the '70s pop band Godiego, who made the theme song for the Japanese TV show Monkey. He states that he's looking forward to visiting relatives and eating Italian food while in San Francisco. (It's no accident that Oyamada named his influential though now defunct record label Trattoria.)
Nonetheless, Southern California might be a highlight of Cornelius's current tour. He has a date at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. "A Cornelius show is a synchronization of sound and visuals and it's influenced by Disney's Fantasia," Oyamada says when asked about the venue. "I was trying to make a rock version of Fantasia [in Fantasma]. So I'm very happy [to be playing there]."
Oyamada knows better than anyone that sound charts limitless outer and inner space, suggesting other worlds and also bridging different countries (say, Brazil and Japan) and time periods (say, from the '60s to 10 years from now). Looking through one of Cornelius's Web sites, I happened on a photograph of Oyamada posing happily with Caetano Veloso, a find that immediately brought a new perspective to the way I hear particular recordings by both artists.