SUMMER RE-UP: What the Thunder Said

Originally posted 27 May 2008. 

Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit
April Is the Cruelest Month
Kojima : 1975

MT, guitar; Kenji Mori, alto sax, flute, bass clarinet; Nobuyoshi Ino, bass, cello; Hiroshi Yamazaki, percussion.

This most obscure Japanese album almost had a high profile in the U.S. It was originally scheduled to be released stateside by ESP Records, but the deal went south at the last minute. One can only speculate how this remarkably forward-looking work might have influenced the scene if only it had been heard. Years later, this music had another brush with wider exposure. “What Have We Given?” was originally slated to appear on Kevin Martin’s Jazz Satellites 2 compilation, but Virgin pulled the plug on the project even as the artwork was being readied by the printer.

Famous assessment by Takayanagi of his peers in Japan’s jazz community, circa the mid-60s. Takayanagi started playing jazz in the 1950s in swing bands. At the age of 37, he discovered free jazz, formed his New Direction Unit, and pushed his music into the stratosphere. Both a technical virtuososo and a creative maverick, he was one of the earliest noise guitar improvisers anywhere in the world. Not to mention one of the most significant.

“What Have We Given?” features plangent and beseeching saxophone squawks against a clanking undercarriage of unsettling rhythms. There’s not so much a definitive beginning, middle, or end as the feeling that the sounds simply enter your speakers and later exit. That indeterminate vibe. This is one of Takayanagi’s more compact and controlled offerings, but hardly pop. And despite the presence of guitar, it’s about as far from “rock” or “fusion” as possible. It has more in common with the Free Improv music from Europe at the time, though mixed with an abrasive early 80s Industrial feel, avant la lettre. If Takayanagi’s playing here recalls Derek Bailey, it’s important to remember their styles developed simulataneously without any apparent influence on one another. This track nicely represents one side of Takayanagi’s work, sometimes called “gradual projection” for how the pieces slowly emerge, the notes patiently accreting, almost ambiantly making their presence felt.

Here’s the other side of Takayanagi. One of his most ferocious blowouts, “My Friend, Blood Shaking My Heart” should be legendary among shredders and free rock noiseniks. A sustained sonata of radical amp destruction, it ranks up there with such stratospheric works of extremity as Dave Burrell’s “Echo.” It’s not proto-noise, kids, but straight up NOISE. A whirlwind of atonality that suspends any sense of passing time. You can hear more than mere echoes of this free jazz/free rock/assault-and-battery in the best work of Keiji Haino’s Fushitshusha, especially their legendary double live effort.

There’s some speculation the album title isn’t a reference to T. S. Eliot’s modernist poetic touchstone “The Wasteland” as much as the infamous Eliot-inspired musical “Wasteland!,” briefly produced in Tokyo by dadaist theatre impressario and movie director Shuji Terayama in the early 1970s. “April is the Cruelest Month” was the kitschy show-stopping number, complete with a kick-line of chorus girls. It was apparently met with hails of riceballs.


Discussion2 Comments Category Masayuki Takayanagi

2 Responses to SUMMER RE-UP: What the Thunder Said

  1. that is a bass clarinet on What Have We Given.

  2. Fantastic piece of work!!Ornette meets Bailey!

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