Reviews by Massimo Ricci

The A23H chronicle


ONJO - Live Vol.1 Series Circuit ( doubtmusic)

Keeping track of the continuous changes and evolution in Otomo Yoshihide's last decade's creative activities is like watching a seismic indicator's needle at work. His Otomo New Jazz Orchestra perfectly explicates this perennial instability, both through constant personnel modifications, despite a few elements regularly present throughout its life (Alfred Harth being one of them, with rare exceptions) and the variety of the repertoire. A main feature of this supergroup - someone called it "actually the best band in the world" - is the leader's will of subjecting the same pieces to different kinds of arrangement depending on the ensemble's form and geographic connotations. As a matter of fact, starting around 2005 - when touring in Japan - the leader began to include Japanese and Korean musicians, and developed experiments with string sections and unusual combinations of instrumentalists (the pairing of Sachiko M's sine waves and Ishikawa Ko's sho in the initial "Lost in the rain" works exceptionally fine), all the while fine-tuning what he calls "double-command", namely simultaneous orchestral playing led in parallel by separate conductors. Two examples of such a technique are found in this 2-CD set, the first of a series documenting live concerts in Tokyo and Berlin in 2006, where ONJO tackled a book including Eric Dolphy's tunes, originals by Mr.O and two compositions by Yamashita Takeo, a relevant figure in the mind and ears of Japanese population over 40, as he scored numerous animation and special-effects-for-children programs in the 60s and the 70s, a recognized subliminal influence for Otomo (who has also recorded an album dedicated to his themes). This is as a nice introduction to ONJO's eclecticism as any, given the consistency and the high-quality level of the music, which showcases the blend of modern jazz and onkyo that the principal had envisioned one day in bizarre circumstances (he was in fact washing dishes in a restaurant after a dinner, and observing the different behaviours of the attendants - the quiet discussion, the happiness, the laughter, the noise - got illuminated with the idea of a similarly conceived instrumental gathering). Extraordinary dynamic contiguities define the abolishment of borders between genres: raging blowouts and night-club melodies by the reeds, delicate orchestrations and Stravinskian violence by the strings, distinct typologies of female voice (besides Kahimi Karie there's the pleasant surprise of Margareth Kammerer's presence in a couple of tracks from the Berlin gigs). Accelerations and sudden silences. Coherent riffage and virtual absence of indications (Otomo would disagree with this, though). The worn out concept of "total music"could be applied in this case, because these people constitute a brand of genuine non-belonging, where joyfulness and enthusiasm - but also reflectiveness - aliment the same eruptive energy of those who eat and chat in public. As the boss says, "good food is all it takes to stop people from fighting". I don't really agree, but this release offers lots of food for thought without risking mental indigestion.

In Touching Extremes