Reviews by Massimo Ricci

The A23H chronicle


Otomo Yoshihide’s New Jazz Orchestra - OUT TO LUNCH (doubtmusic)

There’s a strong element of humour in Out To Lunch, as Dolphy’s milestone is both honoured and dissected by an army of expert students transformed into mad scientists at the flick of a switch. The themes are fought over with an enjoyable mixture of mercurial irony and transcendence, with the honours going to “Hat And Beard” (also one of the Quintet’s strongest covers, as demonstrated by their superb version on the DIW album ONJQ Live) and the title track, both pieces offering themselves in sacrifice to chaotic collective interplay. “Gazzelloni” meanwhile is a brutal four-minute beating with a punkish flavour (I’m reminded of Hal Russell’s NRG Ensemble). “Something Sweet, Something Tender” starts with an unbelievable bass clarinet solo from Harth. The Seoul-based Frankfurter is one of the most recognizable voices in the Orchestra, along with Axel Dörner, Mats Gustafsson and Sachiko M, the latter applying her sinewaves discreetly throughout both discs. “Straight Up And Down – Will Be Back” closes the show with a 28-minute trip through EAI, everything insinuated rather than affirmed in an invisible bridge linking two worlds that have more in common than you might think as far as inquisitive musicianship is concerned.

In Paris Transatlantic

Otomo Yoshihide’s New Jazz Orchestra - ONJO (doubtmusic)

Otomo Yoshihide’s passion for jazz is well known, and has fuelled two of his most highly acclaimed working units since 1999. The ONJQ evolved into the ONJO around 2004, after the departure of saxophonist Kikuchi Naruyoshi and the arrival of Kahimi Karie, Alfred Harth, Sachiko M and Kumiko Takara. Aside from serving as a showcase for Yoshihide’s unique compositional skills, ONJQ/ONJO have celebrated artists as diverse as Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Jim O’Rourke, James Blood Ulmer and even the Beatles, reinventing their compositions as an utterly convincing mesh of EAI and furious free jazz. Familiar themes expand inexorably into free-for-all improvisation, at times homing in on scattered, near-silent small sounds while on other occasions (such as their version of O’Rourke’s “Eureka”) reaching for Last Exit-style devastation. It’s a peculiar sonic morphology that generates hours of ear-cleansing, high-octane material.

ONJO – the album – is the more “intellectual” of the two Orchestra outings. “Eureka” is sung in Jane Birkin-like French by Kahimi Karie, who whispers and sighs until Otomo’s gentle chordal accompaniment gives way to hundreds of contrasting lines in an explosion of intertwining counterpoint. “Theme from Canary” starts with ruined vinyl and continues with a melodic motif worthy of Gil Evans. Charles Mingus’s “Orange Was the Colour of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk” (already recorded by ONJQ on Tails Out) walks along the cliff-top of pulverized freedom, and Ornette Coleman’s “Broken Shadows” rises out of a boiling lava of false starts and snippets. By contrast, the closing “A-Shi-Ta”, with Hamada Mariko vocalising over a slow percussive pattern, could almost be incidental music to a theatre piece, its evocative depth and intensity perfectly counterbalancing the preceding tracks.

In Paris Transatlantic

JOSEPH FOSTER / ALFRED HARTH - Heart/Po$ter (Rasbliutto)

The CD cover, a beautiful black and white close up of what looks like a beehive (but I wouldn't bet my house on it) credits Foster and Harth with "trumpet, etc." and "reeds, etc." respectively. Now, it's just that "etcetera" that gives this album its distinguished personality; as a matter of fact, "Heart/Po$ter" is a record that mixes improvisation and musique concrete, an audio documentary full of unusual thinking patterns ("unusual" being the rule when dealing with this particular breed of musicians). Standing well clear off populist declarations, Foster and Harth are not afraid to get their hands dirty with the soil of unlawful object rustling, which they practice without premeditation even when the land appears unfruitful. Tampering with the exhalations produced by their instruments, they feel compelled to show the grainy details of noise as generated by everyday's objects, be it a radio, a Tibetan bell (I know what you're gonna say, but every fashionable zen home has its own "Tibetan something" nowadays - therefore that's an "everyday object”, too), a Jew's harp or some other sonic infection. Trumpet and reeds themselves describe a special way of navigating against the odd current: at times it looks like the multiphonics and the tiny wheezing cries of desperation coming out of that blowing wrestle would be better returning into Joseph and Alfred's lungs and stay there, observers - from within - of an unlikely landscape. And what's the method of understanding if what we hear is an helicopter or just a slowed down tongue oscillation? What's the line separating the uniqueness of these artists' voice from an involuntary portrait of Meredith Monk's glottal lamentations? No answer. Not from musicians that never mince tones, preferring instead to surprise their audience with a homemade poetry in which every sound acts as a birdcall for concentration. Thus, the most correct approach to this release is standing firmly in front of its almost nihilist appearance, sure about the fact that Joseph Foster and Alfred Harth will lead you through their impromptu structuralism without reticence.

In Touching Extremes