June 06, 2010

Koboku Senjû – Hideout, 26 May 2010

Some thoughts from my journal--

Last week, I saw the North American debut of the Japanese-Norwegian quintet, Koboku Senjû, in Chicago. I saw the group live before listening to their debut album. The CD itself, entitled “Selektiv Hogst,” while conceptually strong, falls into a familiar trap of improvised and particularly quiet music. The problem is that, though the music is controlled to a high degree, giving room for intimate interplay between the players, there is nothing on the disc that can compare to the visceral immediacy of seeing the group perform live. In particular, the rigors of circular breathing and deep concentration on display by Eivind Lønning (trumpet) and Espen Reinertdsen (tenor sax) were completely eliminated on disc.

To capture such elusive playing on a recording is difficult, of course. But the actual playing at the Hideout was more inventive, more focused, and executed in a stronger way. It seems that the release documents an early meeting of a group that had developed significantly between its recording and their first North American show. The horn players in particular were magically inventive during the show, playing interwoven lines that mimicked the pulsing of electronic oscillations, the clattering and whispering of modular synthesizers, and other nonmusical elements, with precision and clarity. The incorporation of advanced musical techniques like circular breathing, and the propensity to play very softly and at the very edges of the instruments’ ranges, only added to the power of watching the horn players work.

Tetuzi Akiyama, the Japenese guitarist, played marvelously unresolved lines throughout on an acoustic guitar. The sparseness of his playing gave it a quietly authoritative feel, enhanced by his mystic cowboy persona. Playing fingerstyle and employing multiple capos, brushes, and semi-resonant slides, he coaxed a surprising array of sounds from the acoustic, miked simply with an SM-57, his right hand theatrically plucking as if waving a wand over the room.

The main attraction of the group, if there is one, was the no-input mixing master Toshimaru Nakamura. He’s been released in a number of electroacoustic collaborations recently (trumpet, saxophone), and it was interesting in particular to hear him interact with Akiyama. Their set as a duo at the Hideout produced some intense and distinct soundscapes, complimenting each other with tense, careful, and gorgeous playing.

Perhaps resulting from his choice of instrument, there’s a competitiveness to Nakamura’s virtuosity, a barely-contained impulse to search for the new and to stand out. This was especially apparent in the large ensembles with Chicago players at Enemy, and occasionally with Koboku Senjû. Occasionally, Nakamura would simply crush a piece into submission during a section with crescendos of noise, essentially forcing the acoustic instruments to regroup into a new section. This was a surprising tactic that lent a fresh urgency to the music, but it also reinforced Nakamura’s status—as an innovator on an unusual instrument, and as a known force on the progressive music scene. I have to think that as this group keeps playing, their collective virtuosity will continue to make listeners challenge the limitations of both electronic and acoustic instruments.

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