19 September, 2012

30 Reviews In 30 Days: Review #19

Masayuki Takayanagi/Kaoru Abe, Mass Projection (DIW Records, 2001; rec. live, 1970)

This album is a 50-plus minute 1970 live recording of mind-destroying, vicious free improvisation, somewhere on the cusp between extremely uninhibited free jazz and total noise. On this album, two legendary figures of Japan's free jazz scene - alto saxophonist Kaoru Abe, whose approach to the instrument is somewhat reminiscent of early Albert Ayler during his more extreme explorations, and guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi, who has been referred to as a sort of Japanese Derek Bailey - take an excoriating journey to the farthest regions of instrumental expression. Abe's playing is extremely abrasive on its' own, but Takayanagi's playing is almost indescribable. The comparison to Bailey is somewhat off base. Bailey, like Takayanagi, was a pioneering guitarist who did much to bring free improvisation ever closer to total abstraction. Bailey, however, was far more obviously theoretical in his approach to the instrument. The scrapes, clangs and whizzes he made his instrument cough up felt like an academically considered thesis about the futility of tune. Takayanagi is equally proficient as a guitarist, maybe even more proficient technically than Bailey was. In contrast, however, he is far more visceral in his approach to the instrument. There is fire in his playing. Every howl and screech that he conjures up has live-wire emotional content behind it. Both players, in fact, shower the listener in horrifically brilliant noise improvisation with palpable emotion at the core of their approaches to their music.

There are two tracks on this album. They both go over 25 minutes. It is an almost completely unrelenting, merciless assault of atonality. Perhaps the best comparison is not to other free jazz, but to another pioneering 1970 album: the Stooges' Fun House. Because Mass Projection sounds something like "L.A. Blues" sans drums, bass and vocals, carried out for almost an hour, with an almost arbitrary break in between. That might sound daunting, and well, this album is daunting. But I'm unsure if anyone else dared to go this far out in 1970. If there were other travelers on this territory, they were very far and few between indeed. There is, however, one softening of the action during the last half of the second improvisation, which is an opportunity for Abe to play surprisingly soft, uncannily lyrical anti-melodies on a reeded shakuhachi. The impact of Takayanagi's grotesquely distorted, feedbacking guitar slashing in again is almost unbearable.

This album is 100 percent raw nerve.

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