Bring the Noise

Kaoru Abe
Solo 1972.1.21
PSF : 1972

KA, alto sax.

“Sound that stops the capacity for judgment. Sound that never decays. Sound that breaks free from every possibe image. Sound that comes from both death and birth. Sound that dies. The sound around me. Sound like the symptoms of eternal cold turkey. Sound that resists private ownership. Sound that goes insane. Sound that spills over from the cosmos. The sound of sound.”
–Kaoru Abe, on his musical concerns

“I want to become faster than anyone. Faster than cold, than man alone, than the Earth, than Andromeda. Where, where is the crime?”
–Kaoru Abe

Despite its reputation as noise music, hopefully our entries over the past few months have shown Free Jazz can also be funky, ambient, melodic, delicate, haunting, bubbly, et cetera. There’s a wide spectrum to the music – as wide, if not wider – than so-called traditional jazz itself.

But free jazz can also bring the molten-hot noise. And we love that part of the music, too. There are some artists who have helped forge the music’s reputation as extreme ear-scraping fare, none more so than Japanese saxophonist Kaoru Abe. Eugene Chadbourne figures Abe may have the pole position in the race for “the most abrasive saxophone sound in history.”

When Abe started playing weekly gigs during 1970 in the notoriou red light Shinjuku district of Tokyo. Word spread fast about the young marvel. “The speedfreak acceleration and heedless frenzy of his playing rapidly gained him rabid fans,” Alan Cummings notes in his indispensable article about the fertile Shinjuku free jazz scene of the early 70s (The Wire #261, Nov. 2005). Cummings also details how many of his peers were quickly turned off by their collaborations with Abe, as much by his bruising stamina and ferocious sound as by his confrontational posturing. During an engagement with Milford Graves in 1977, Kaoru so enraged Graves that he demanded Abe be dropped from the tour. [see comments]

So it’s hardly surprising many of Abe’s recordings are solo recitals. The best ones stem from early in his brief career – between 1970 and 1973 – before pills and booze and the tragic cliche of the self-destructive jazz lifestyle dulled his incendiary musical blitz. He died of a ruptured stomach in 1978.

Cummings calls Abe’s playing an “urgent, lonely journey to the end of consciousness,” and you can hear some of that existential quest in this track from a 1972 performance. Abe has two speeds here: fast and faster. Favoring long lines, he explores the full range of the instrument without overblowing. He’s not “building” anything as much as dragging everything in the room out the door and down the street.

What’s interesting is that after all these years it’s easier to hear the jagged beauty and detonated lyricism in his playing than the sheets of sonic mayhem. It’s not until the 7:00 minute mark that he really cracks off some skull-scraping shrieks and wails. It’s the one moment where he hurtles past Albert Ayler into some new realm of pure ecstatic noise. And even this feels less like a shock tactic than a natural crescendo. It’s a manifestation of the convulsive beauty courted by the surrealists.

This album is currently out of print, but PSF Records offers many other amazing Abe recordings from his prime period. Check out their website. We’d encourage you to order directly from them – they’ve got reliable customer service and their prices are generally cheaper than most.

If anyone has any info about – or has seen – the Abe bio pic Endless Waltz made in Japan by Koji Wakamatsu, please let us know.

Category Kaoru Abe

19 Responses to Bring the Noise

  1. Wow… incredibly intense with a – dare I say – lovely tone at times. I’ve heard his drum duets are phenomenal.

    Great post!


    an Endless Waltz clip featuring hot Keiji Haino and Fushitsusha action

  3. Thanks a lot to you 2 for your site.
    Very fine jazz, lots of reasons to be happy.
    Cheers from France.

  4. Brakhage – Thanks so much for that clip! Amazing stuff and always a pleasure to see Fushitsusha in action.

    Great blog you have, BTW.

    We’ve added your Dinosaur Gardens and the also excellent Floodwatch to the “Spaceways” links on the sidebar and I’d recommend everyone go check them out.

  5. I loved hearing this, thanks. But the applause at the end speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

  6. Absolutely incredible!

  7. Is this amongst his more “accessible” work, as your post seems to imply?

  8. Mwanji – Glad you liked the Abe! This track is somewhere in the middle re: accessibility. It’s by far the most aggressive track on this particular album – the other pieces are more overtly lyrical and somewhat subdued in comparison.

    However, on a few other albums I’ve heard, this would rate as one of the more accessible entries. The PSF site does an okay job letting you know which albums are more gentle and which are full-on blitz. But even the most extreme are filled with moments of breathtaking beauty. Basically if you dug this, you’ll probably enjoy most of his work. Just be careful about getting anything post 1973.

  9. The Overhang Party album with the peerless Sabu Toyozumi on drums has some amazing moments. It’s available on cd in Japan.

  10. Thanks for the details, cjc.

  11. Thanks for posting Kaoru Abe, I love this stuff. He sounds like he’s playing a mangy distorted guitar at times.

  12. three albums with takayanagi really worth checking out. recorded in 1970 they set a benchmark for all future noise efforts… i think cds are still in print.

  13. this shit just changed my life, thanks for posting it!

  14. Hey Ryan – Thanks for the comment and glad you loved the track so much! Stick around b/c we’ll be mosting more Abe in the not-too-distant future, including some of the work Atanse mentions with Takayanagi.

  15. During an engagement with Milford Graves in 1977, Kaoru so enraged Graves that he demanded Abe be dropped from the tour.

    This is not TRUE. I never said anything like this. This is historically incorrect.


  16. Mr. Milford Graves: Thanks much for coming around, and for setting us straight. Apologies for the inaccuracy. For what it’s worth, we found that bit of the story in an article from The Wire, issue 261, by Alan Cummings (as cited above). Would be interested to hear more about it, if there is any more to tell, and you care to share….

  17. I’ve never seen the film (and can’t find it anywhere, much less subtitled) but apparently it’s centered around Abe’s relationship and subsequent marriage with writer and actress Izumi Suzuki (who apparently also performed with Tenjosajiki and was a sort of 70s media figure in Japan). Here are the only sources of information I’m aware of regarding the film:

    “Not helping matters was his obsessive and destructive relationship with his wife, writer Suzuki Ikumi. A film, Endless Waltz, was released a few years ago, chronicling their troubled union (it also featured many of Abe’s associates reminiscing fondly about what an asshole he was). [I’m told there is also a nicely-produced and illuminating book on Abe now available in Japan.] The film depicts one of their more violent arguments, with both completely drunk & drugged, where Ikumi cuts off one of her toes to prove that she loves him.”

    “Koji Wakamatsu, who in the past has directed such pungently titled exploitation flicks as Go Go Be a Virgin a Second Time and Violated Women in White, spins this biopic about jazz saxophonist Kaoru Abe (Ko Machida) and his wife, noted writer Izumi Suzuki (Reona Hirota). A sort of Sid and Nancy for the free-jazz set, the film opens with Suzuki dialing a wrong number and getting Abe. Instead of hanging up, he asks her out on a date and soon the two are shacked up and living together. Sex, drugs and Ornette Coleman feature prominently in the early phase of their relationship, and soon they realize that they are in fact soulmates. Abe is a romantic artist as well as a self-destructive, self-absorbed manchild prone to angry tirades and epileptic seizures. In turn, Izumi is first presented as a bubble-headed hippie chick who goes through men like tissues, but as her relationship with Abe deepens into marriage and evidently motherhood, Izumi reveals a steel will and pragmatism, refusing to sacrifice herself to Abe’s muse. Their tempestuous relationship grows increasingly destructive.”
    (from the Endless Waltz page on

    I wouldn’t rely too much on this movie for cold hard fact though, since Sid & Nancy wasn’t exactly the spitting image of its subject matter – Koji Wakamatsu could’ve taken some directors liberties, especially considering the nature of his other films. I guess it’d take somebody who knows Japanese and has seen the film to confirm its historical accuracy.

  18. Koji Wakamatsu – Endless Waltz (no subs)

    Just posted this a few hours ago. First Published it on emule several years ago.

  19. YAWP!