Sunday, February 25, 2007

Turning Japanese

i've talked before on here about how much i love the untimeliness of the blogosphere. i'm always obsessing over the work of one artist or another and those folk are sometimes contemporary but just as often not. if i happen to be on an Albert Ayler (RIP) kick in a given week, he is just as pertinent to me NOW as if i had been checking him out during his lifetime. have been happening upon a number of blogs lately that seem to operate according to a similar notion and i like that a lot.

the avant-garde-jazz mp3 blog is an awesome creature. enthusiasts of this music know that there's tons of it. you could spend your whole life unearthing awesome out-of-print gems, but you probably wouldn't want to and that's why blogs such as Destination Out and Church Number 9 are so rad.

the former offers a few representative tracks from whatever record is being discussed, from rare Lester Bowie shit to Clifford Thornton, John Zorn and much more. there's also a fair amount of commentary to get you started and some relevant quotes and/or links. Church Number 9 (named after a Frank Wright record) on the other hand is an unabashed mp3 repository, offering whole records in that labyrinthine WinRAR format with very little accompanying commentary.

with my self-devised listening schedule being so very booked up all the freakin' time, i can never keep up with what's on offer at those sites, but i find that they plant seeds. i'll hear about an artist or record from them and then months later find that i'm ready to begin exploring. recently Church Number 9 awakened a longstanding yet dormant interest in Japanese free jazz with an offering from attack-jazz saxist Kaoru Abe.

a long-ass time ago, i read about Abe and his cohort and occasional nemesis, guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi--two of the biggest names in Japanese free jazz--in an awesome "Wire" article by Alan Cummings called "Once Upon a Time In Shinjuku" (it's in issue 261 if anyone is, like me, dorky enough to retain archives of the mag). basically the piece is an incredible chronicle of extremes. Takayanagi was a straight-ahead jazz guitarist who got into some crazy free playing in the '60s. by the '70s he was into full-on noise, experimenting with howling waves of feedback and relentless full-bore attack music.

some interesting facts about Takayanagi that i learned from the article: 1) he had basically two modes of improv: mass projection and gradual projection, the former being loud and dense as fuck and the latter being more spacious. 2) he used to alienate his friends and collaborators by vilifying them in the press and insulting them on concert posters. 3) his ground rules for improvising, according to his drummer, Yoshisaburo Toyozumi, were "Play fortissimo [i.e., really fucking loud], never repeat the same phrase and don't listen to what anyone else is doing." whoa.

so apparently he was sort of the king of this sort of thing in Japan until the young gunslinger Kaoru Abe came along. he was a sort of bad-boy alto saxist who quickly became notorious for his extremity. he freaked everyone out, including American drummer Milford Graves, who refused to continue a Japanese tour until he had the guarantee that Abe would be dropped from the roster (apparently Abe had been taunting and goading Graves during the first concert). so this promoter Aquirax Aida knew that at some point Abe would have to battle Takayanagi and their first concert turned into this totally legendary event: a four-hour head-to-head marathon of ear-splitting mania.

Church Number 9 does have a pretty-cool duo between Abe and a bassist at the link above, but i've had more luck on Soulseek. if anyone has a contraband source such as this, i suggest you mine it for Japanese free jazz. there's not that much Takayanagi to be found there, but what is there is fucking sick.

the one i've been digging all weekend is entitled "Mass Hysterism: In Another Situation." this is simply a howling vortex of total fucking meltdown noise. the drummer, Hiroshi Yamazaki, just sets up this turbulent choppy free pattern and then Takayanagi and another guitarist, Akira Iijima, freakin' go for it in a very serious way for like forty minutes. it's some of the most withering music i've ever heard. the guitars sound like every instrument and sound source ever, all at one time--you'll think you're hearing voices, saxes, wind, sleet, rain, what have you. it's just an elemental and incredibly rich din.

it makes me think about the extremity of Japanese art in general. think of Keiji Haino, the silver-haired mystic and Fushitsusha leader notorious for his ruthless guitar-and-voice riots, and Eye from the Boredoms, who once apparently literally bulldozed a venue wall during a performance, or all these extreme-psych bands like High Rise and Kousokuya or the ultracomplexity of Ruins. it just seems like that culture breeds really really extreme shit...

this "Mass Hysterism" record slays in a much more vicious way than anything i've heard by Wolf Eyes or anyone like that--to boot it's from nineteen eighty frickin three. it has a lot more in common with the balls-out duets of Chris Corsano and Paul Flaherty than any older free jazz, but there's really no jazz to speak of left in this music. it's a howling whirlpool of noise. a lot of that is chalk-uppable to shitty recording quality, but the playing itself is just extremely nihilistic yet vigorous.

the Abe/Takayanagi duo i unearthed, called "Mass Projection," is pretty damn badass, but not IMHO as good as "Mass Hysterism." for one, the sax just isn't capable of the kind of sustained plague-of-infernal-wind vibe that Takayanagi's guitar can conjure. but it is kind of awesomely harrowing to hear Abe try to keep up with the electronic firestorm; you can almost hear him building toward the acute stomach rupture that claimed his life.

anyway, i'm super glad i'm onto this stuff. there's something about a traditionalist, such as Coltrane or Derek Bailey or John Fahey, who starts from a place of solid generic virtuosity and then explodes into the stratosphere. it's a constantly alluring trope b/c so few virtuosos are brave enough to really apply that technique to innovation. Takayanagi is one of those--he gives noise a really really good name. acquire some of this brain-floss posthaste. in the meantime, here's a weird but thorough Takayanagi discography and an mp3 of part one of "MH":

"Mass Hysterism: In Another Situation," part 1

Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit
Masayuki Takayanagi: guitar
Akira Iijima: electric guitar
Hiroshi Yamazaki: drums, percussion

recorded 8/14/83

and here is fairly freaky but intermittently gorgeous viddy of Kaoru Abe eviscerating "Autumn Leaves" (cf. Sonny Sharrock: "I've been trying to find a way for the terror and the beauty to live together in one song..."):

[ps--isn't it crazy how every region has its own free jazz vibe? American stuff, like Ayler, is connected real heavily to elemental blues and gospel, just super emotional and heartrending; British stuff, like early Spontaneous Music Ensemble, is as extreme, but totally controlled and pointillistic; German stuff, like Brotzmann, is gruff, cacophonous, gritty and relentless; Dutch stuff, like Bennink and Mengelberg, is whimsical and pastiche-oriented; and here we have the Japanese stuff, which is just ends-of-the-earth material--real endurance-test-ish. interesante]

[pps--this dude over at the Ongaku blog definitely has the 411 on extreme Japanese shit. he talks about Takayanagi and Hanatarash (Eye's old band) and sundry other cool stuff. check out this video of Hanatarash (not linked from Ongaku, but he gave me the idea to check on YouTube for them]: ... there are a few others available on YouTube too...]


Prof. Drew LeDrew said...

Great great great, as usual, Hank. Just one clarification re the Abe-Graves contretempts: Over at Dest: Out, on an Abe post, we recently fielded a comment from one Milford Graves, and he wanted to correct the historical record on that point. See here: Seems entirely credible to us.

Anyway, thanks for everything.

Prof. Drew LeDrew said...

Er, thanks, too, for the nice comments about Dest: Out!