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Monday, January 24, 2011


Tim Owen on the first four releases by the new Danish label Jvtlandt, where the emphasis is on improvised music by mainly Japanese musicians.


One of my big discoveries of 2010 was an intriguing new label, Jvtlandt. Its first batch of four releases initially seems rather miscellaneous, but there are commonalities which indicate a strong personal interest in their production and dissemination which suggests that the label will be worth keeping an eye on in the future.

Live in Copenhagen

I suppose Otomo Yoshihide will be the best-known member of Emergency!, though the leader seems to be drummer Yasuhiro Yoshigaki. On this date (as on two previous Emergency! recordings, “Loveman Plays Psychedelic Swing” and “Loveman Prays for Psychical Sing”, both released on the rather amusingly named Studio Wee label, and available only from Japan), Yoshigaki is the only contributor of original material. The “Live in Copenhagen” album was recorded aboard the Copenhagen-berthed ship-cum-venue MS Stubnitz in 2006. Yoshihide plays electric guitar throughout, as does Ryuichi Saito, while Hiroaki Mizutani handles bass duties. For the record both Mizutani and Yoshigaki have worked extensively with Yoshihide in the past, both having being involved with the New Jazz project from the get-go, and Yoshigaki having also played alongside Otomo in Ground Zero.

What’s more, the play-list and attitude is very much in the ONJQ style. The set opener, Yoshigaki’s ‘Re-Baptizum’, is the only original tune. It delivers just the sort of power jazz you might expect from a group of this configuration, with at least one of the guitars peeling off abrasive riffs in a fashion heavily indented to Fred Frith’s work for Massacre. And yet Energency! keep everything fresh and spontaneous, and the twin guitars are seldom, if ever, head-to-head in competition. Abrupt transitions à la Naked City abound. On Louis Prima’s ‘Sing Sing Sing’ (yes, that’s right) the mood is appropriately swingin’, and the guitar playing here evokes that of Eddie Hazel’s work for George Clinton’s P-Funk continuum. Charles Mingus’ ‘Fables of Faubus’ naturally loses a lot of its righteous anger in cultural/temporal transposition, but Emergency! compensate by ramping up the drive. The first ten minutes of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s ‘The Inflated Tear’ is rendered in sustained feedback, amplifier hum and subtly modulated noise, but thereafter the twin guitars first respectfully state, and then promptly eviscerate Kirk’s lovely melody. As with the other two canonical renditions in the program it’s respectful of both the original spirit, and the original spirit of freedom. “Live in Copenhagen” is a righteous blast from tip to tail.

State Changes According to a Wind
King Hussein Bridge
Allenby Bridge Crossing Point

These complementary CDs, each presented under the banner of State Changes According to a Wind, are the work of the Copenhagen-based composer, musician, and Jvtlandt label-owner Martin Vognsen. They feature some of the personnel of Emergency! but couldn’t be more different.

“King Hussein Bridge” features Vognsen playing alongside Emergency!’s Yasuhiro Yoshigaki (on drums, percussion, timpani) and Kumiko Takara (vibraphone, prepared timpani, percussion). Vognsen himself plays electric guitar, semi acoustic resonator guitar, supercollider, and timpani. Although “King Hussein Bridge” is always more ambient in my memory than in actuality, it is nonetheless a meticulously realised real-time improvisation that favours close listening and exhibits a sensibility that verges on third-stream chamber music. It’s unconventional, but effortlessly so. The lack of convention comes as a surprising realization long after the listening session is over. That’s how it was for me anyway. Takara’s tympani and vibes are essential ingredients here. 

On “Allenby Bridge Crossing Point”, Vognsen takes cuttings from the “King Hussein Bridge” session and splices it with material from three very different sessions to create something satisfyingly unclassifiable. In the first of the other sessions Vognsen directed a performance by the Emergency! rhythm team of Yoshigaki and Mizutani; the second and third have members of Danish National Radio Children’s Choir and Danish National Chamber Orchestra respectively performing material composed and orchestrated by Vognsen. Vognsen combined all of these elements with unspecified field recordings. The result should by rights be a mess but is in fact a remarkably coherent progression through a range of moods, from real-time musical interplay through a range of moods and atmospheres. The Orchestral material is deftly and sparingly deployed.

The packaging here is oblique. Both titles are adorned with stills from what I assume must be Vognsen’s own videotaped footage of a crossing of the titular bridge. These images don’t appear to bear any relation to the music. Perhaps the fact that there is no companion volume titled “Al-Karameh Bridge” has some obscure meaning; a comment on Palestinian statelessness perhaps?

Katsura Yamauchi

Katsura Yamauchi plays alto sax. He has apparently been making his living as a musician for nearly a decade, and has often worked in Europe, developing a strong relationship with French saxophonist Michel Doneda in the process. Still, I must confess, that despite an on/off interest in Doneda’s work, Yamauchi’s is a new voice to me.

One half of this disc – Yamauchi’s first live recording, apparently – is given to a solo recital, the other half to the ‘Salmosax Ensemble’, five amateur saxophonists invited to workshop a series of Yamauchi’s “semi-automatic improvisation pieces”.

In his solo set Yamauchi displays formidable purity of conception, staying in a controlled upper register throughout his solo pieces, but I found these two compositions and one fifteen minute improvisation rather hard to like. The ensemble pieces are much more varied and easier to warm to, and that’s clearly Yamauchi in there soloing rather wonderfully, particularly on a number called ‘Far East’, allowing a vital smidgen of passion to creep into his music, so maybe I just need to let his thing grow on me a bit.

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