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?”
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.