Itaru Oki, Nobuyoshi Ino, Coi Sun BaeKami Fusen (NoBusiness, 2017)

oki-kamiFor the past year, I’ve felt like my visit to Japan should have included a deeper investigation into Japanese free jazz. I spent a lot of time in mainstream stores, and my time at Disk Union, the grand dame of Japanese underground records, was spent on the prog rock floor, not in the jazz/improv area.

I found an opening with Kami Fusen, newly out on the NoBusiness label. Recorded in 1996 at Café Amores in Yamaguchi, the album features two trumpets and a bassist, all three being veterans dating back to the ’70s. And while I was at it, I used Squidco to track down a 1975 album by one of the three.

Recorded in 1996 at Cafe Amores in Yamaguchi, Kami Fusen features compositions and a few standards that branch out into improvised abstractness. It’s not ecstatic jazz — more a cool flame than a bonfire, with harmonized themes and long stretches where one trumpet sits out.

The backstory is that when trumpeter Itaru Oki and bassist Nobuyoshi Ino were touring as a duo in 1996, promoter Takeo Suetomi invited Korean trumpeter Choi Sun Bae to sit in with them for this gig and recorded the results on DAT. The resulting CD is part of a collaborative series between NoBusiness and Japan’s Chap Chap Music.

Japanese music tends toward a sweetness, manifested even in their metal and rap (but not in noise, as Merzbow can attest). There are traces of that here, such as a pop-sounding progression ad the end of “Yawning Baku” or the slow, sentimental melody of the title track.

This certainly counts as a free-jazz session, though. That title track eventually splits into ragged screams of passion from one trumpet while the other trumpet (the smoother tone that I’m guessing is Bae) continues improvising melodically over the chords. “Ikiru” opens with a jagged free improvisation, with Oki on high-pitched bamboo flute against Bae’s supremely high-register trumpet squeaks.

The album closes with a standards melody, including a solo trumpet take on “I Remember Clifford” and a swingy take on “Old Folks” that builds into a playfully bouncing improvisation.

The DAT-recorded sound is pretty good. Ino’s bass — the crucial energy source that really does drive the session — is easy to hear albeit not very deep. On “Pon Pon Tea,” Ino is the one who propels the freely improvised segment. The two trumpeters follow, intertwining aggressively but leaving enough space to absorb what’s happening.

oki-phantomWhile I was at it, I wanted a taste of what these guys had done back in the ’70s, so I looked up Oki on Squidco and took a chance on Phantom Note (Offbeat, 1975). It’s a crisp free-jazz quartet date with Oki’s trumpet sounding sparkling and clear, ably matched by Yoshiaki Fujikawa on alto sax and a sharp rhythm section of Keiki Midorikawa (bass, cello) and Hozumi Tanaka (drums). Poet Gozou Yoshimasou delivers a dramatic, desperate screed amid the harsh cosmic storm of “Kodai-tenmondai (Ancient Observatory).” The album ends with the outright brutality of “Caesar and Capone.”


Graphical scores are on my mind after that sfSound Festival post. So when I came across this photo, I found myself wondering what it would sound like:


It wouldn’t necessarily be interesting. If you interpret the lines as a six-lined music staff, you might get just a block of white-noise chords. If you decide this is a single line denoting rhythms and spaces — now you might be getting somewhere.

I found the photo on the Spoon & Tamago blog, which tracks cool art and design projects coming out of Japan. The birds are seagull-like creatures called kawau (they’re cormorants, according to the Wild in Japan blog), once endangered and now repopulated to the point of becoming a nuisance.

Photographer Yoshinori Mizutani produced a series of these photos, turning the birds into stark, surreal visions — some of which really do look like they’d make interesting graphical scores. A photobook is pending. Check out Spoon & Tamago for more info.


Treasure Hunting at Tokyo’s Disk Union


Disk Union organizes its prog CDs by country. How cool is that.

Not only that, but artists within a country are filed next to the proper supergroup. So the Genesis shelf is where you’ll find Tony Banks and Anthony Phillips, while the Yes shelf includes Peter Banks, Badger (which includes Tony Kaye), and White, the band fronted by drummer Alan White.

The links run deep. The King Crimson section included Bill Bruford’s jazz band Earthworks and the colossal Centipede, whose more-than-50 members happen to include Keith Tippett.

imageThis comes up because yes, I’ve just taken a trip to Japan, and my first-ever visit to Disk Union was a highlight. I think of the store as a colony creature, a sprawl of genre-specific ministores spread across a few Shinjuku blocks, with satellites around the city and in the suburbs. The “main” store occupies all seven floors of one building, with one specialty per floor. Program was on Floor 3.

Other parts of Disk Union occupy random floors of other buildings on the same street. Jazz, for example, is on a ground floor at the end of the block.

Most at of my time was spent in the Prog section. I went farther upstairs to check out indie rock and ’80s, bypassing the classic rock floor, where they were playing the Sgt. Pepper album. (Each store/floor plays its own relevant music. I love The Beatles, but my taste for classic rock has waned.) I also peeked at the 7th Floor punk section — where the clerk was playing a Japanese band that was basically indie rock with ragged, screaming vocals. It was an odd breed of punk, but it was a good antidote to the sugary music that I’d been hearing for the entire trip.

The punk section seemed legit, by the way. Sub genres included power-pop-punk, melodic punk, harder stuff bordering on metal (the proper Metal store is in another building), and classic ’70s/’80s acts, including plenty from Japan.

My haul from Disk Union was entirely prog: the aforementioned White and Centipede albums; a ’70s British band called Gryphon, which is what the clerk was playing as I shopped; and a Japanese band called Asturia, selected after I pressed the clerk for a recommendation.

What these things have in common is that I’d never encountered them at home. CDs are a pricey luxury in Japan, running at ¥2500 or ¥3000 ($25 to $30) for new titles, so there wasn’t much leeway for the novelty of a “J”-version of a known quantity. I was also more hesitant than normal when it came to taking a chance on a random title.

The price is also why I didn’t buy from the Jazz store. The small avant-garde section was robust, but the titles were mostly familiar; they either originated in the States or could be easily obtained there. Too bad — an avant-jazz bin used to be a treasured find, but the Internet’s trove of news has made surprises harder to come by. That’s the downside to having access to such online riches.

From Evan Parker’s Swing to Ancient Bronze Bells

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Evan Parker swing this hard. I always assumed he could, but he proves it in this recent trio date, on tenor sax:

That session took place in London on Feb. 7, at a venue called IKLEKTIC, and got posted to YouTube less than 48 hours later. Hat tip to @DalstonSound on Twitter.

This post is really about the drummer, though. I hadn’t encountered Toshi Tsuchitori before, and I liked his playing on that short chip — including the way he egged on Parker and bassist John Edwards as that “swinging free jazz” mode began to emerge. Tsuchitori looks old enough to have had quite an eventful career, I thought to myself.

So, I started researching him. And yes, Tsuchitori has had quite a career.

In 1975, he recorded Origination, a duo album with saxophonist Mototeru Takagi. You can hear them blaze through 12 minutes of music on this clip, a track titled “Little Boy.”

Ototatchinuru18, the YouTube user who posted that IKLEKTIC clip, created two YouTube channels of Tscuchitori videos, including many sessions in quiet contexts closer to traditional Japanese music. But there’s also this ferocious duet with Milford Graves.

In fact, Tsuchitori has played with many of the jazz/improv greats. Here’s a particularly delicious spot, from 1978: a subdued duet with Derek Bailey, where Tsuchitori works with tight clacking and snaps, matching Bailey’s guitar language. Bailey at one point responds with a couple of long background tones — it’s a terrific moment.

It turns out Tsuchitori, whose career now includes music for plays and movies, has a fascination not just for traditional music but for ancient music. That is, music for instruments found at archaeological sites — specifically, broken bronze bells.

Tsuchitori built replicas of the bells, or pots, and recorded an album of music for them, a project of “speculatory sound,” as writer Cameron Allan McKean puts it.

Researching Toshi Tsuchitori was a fascinating little exercise. I’m glad to have noticed him, and I’m grateful to everyone mentioned in this post for pointing the way to him — including Evan Parker, for his work at the service of two solid musical partners that Sunday evening.