trio at offsite

Trying valiantly not to traffic in geographical stereotypes, it’s still not difficult to note how exemplary minimalist music like this can be created and supported in a land like Japan which prides itself on excessive politeness and reveres illustrations shaped by single brush strokes.

Furthermore, in a culture that has produced so many electronic advances, using the sounds from Taku Unami’s computer as a fully functioning part of this improvising trio seems fitting as well. Still, to hear what makes this CD an impressive listening experience that demands high concentration, you must ignore received clichés and examine the music.

As an aside, the conventional idea of pastoral, pacific mechanically sophisticated Japanese can easily be put aside with a listen to any of that country’s industrial noise bands or a glance at its films and comic books filled with images of violence, sadism and sexual bondage.

To Westerners, the best known member of this trio may be guitarist Taku Sugimoto, who has worked with locals such as turntablist Yoshihide Otomo and mixing board specialist Toshimaru Nakamura as well as in Europe and North America with American guitarist Kevin Drumm, British tabletop guitar pioneer Keith Rowe and Swiss drummer/computer whiz Günter Müller. However the most arresting sounds here are made by trumpeter Masafumi Ezaki, whose only non-Nipponese contact seems to have been the equally unknown Dutch baritone saxophonist Ad Peijnenburg.

Using his construction of brass, bell and twisted valves as a sound source, Ezaki creates jagged sonic patterns of hisses and rarefied air that have also been explored by Boston’s Greg Kelly and Berlin's Axel Dörner. The only other even more minimalist example of his style is MANGA-MICHI, a CD-R only duo with Unami, recorded in a studio the same day as this live session from Tokyo’s one-evening-a-month performance space. Unami, has played improvised music since 1996 with other exploratory stylists such as Otomo, Nakamura and French bassist Jöelle Léandre. In 2000, he founded the Hibari Music label that so far has only released this CD.

Going electronica sound and silence masters like Britain’s AMM and guitarist Derek Bailey one better, the uninterrupted, approximately 55-minute piece here is often as much a catalogue of effects as anything else. Widely spaced gestures usually take place one note — or sound — at a time, with one or the other player adding approximated percussion to the proceedings.

Along the way, as you listen you’ll hear the whoosh and rumble of the computer innards, the pluck of a single guitar chord and the motion of one valve being depressed as air moves through the cylindrical bore. Careful attention relates certain sounds to their sources, such as mouthpiece tongue kisses and a short, brassy metallic rasp. You can also aurally understand the crackle of multi-directed electronics, a 10 second whoosh of computer feedback, 32 seconds of radio beeps and the protracted click of fingers on a keyboard. Plus the listener can identify scratches on the fret board or beneath the guitar bridge, and the strumming of a single guitar chord.

A few of the percussive elements may arise from Sugimoto applying a bow to the heavy wire attached to the neck of his guitar, but many sounds are less easily identified. What, for instance, creates what appears to be a door creaking, the hiss of an electric fireplace or the sound of steam gradually being expelled from a boiler? Where does an infant’s whine appear from, not to mention the lowing of cows and sheep and a squeak that could come either from a child’s toy or a rodent loose in the club? Who is crumpling paper in the middle of the performance and who has the time to slowly and carefully pull an adhesive bandage off a covered wound?

Lacking crescendos, decrescendos and dynamics in general, the music demands concentration and no outside ambient sound, a situation which with the audience accepts at offsite, since its applause appears almost out of nowhere at the end of the disc.

With the music merely ending as offhandedly as it began, it should be admired for its precision, But in future the injection of some dramatic coloring could add to the experience.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. trio at offsite

Personnel: Masafumi Ezaki (trumpet); Taku Sugimoto (guitar); Taku Unami (computer)