are you be
Animul Records ANI 103

Recorded in Tokyo, by three Japan-identified musicians, this CD is an amiable and eccentric admixture of jazz-rock fusion and minimalist sounds. Although two of the players are American, the mix’n’match ethos relates to experiments by other locals who seem to be bringing a rock sensibility and electronica to improvised music. Turntablist/sampler Otomo Yoshihide, for instance, now leads a so-called jazz quintet, while jazz pianist Satoko Fujii has recorded and toured with Ruins drummer Tatsuya Yoshida.

R.U.B. percussionist Samm Bennett, who moved to Tokyo in 1996 after 12 years in New York, may have been member of the improvising trio 3rd Person with the late cellist Tom Cora, and worked with saxophonist John Zorn and guitarist Marc Ribot, but he insists he never really had the feel for jazz drumming. Here and on other electronics-intensive projects he plays loops, samples, drum machines, portable record players, CD players, gadgets and cheap electronics as well as the standard kit.

Kazuhisa Uchihashi, who plays guitar and effects, bass and daxophone here began his career in the late 1980s in jazz groups, then adapted to freer group improvisations incorporating rock textures, and in the mid-1990s was even a member of Otomo’s first band, Ground Zero. Other non-Asian playing partners have included daxophone stylist Hans Reichel, violinist Jon Rose, and in the past he has recorded in duo with Bennett and in a larger group with the third R.U.B. member Ned Rothenberg, who plays alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet on this disc.

Brooklynite Rothenberg, who at one point early on had Bennett as a member of his Double Band, spent one protracted six month period in Japan during the early 1990s performing and studying shakuhachi with two of its foremost masters. Other associations have been with Tuvan vocalist Sainkho Namchylak, and leading a band that mixed his woodwinds with bass guitar and tabla. The reedist has also put out solo sessions designed to use polyphony and microtonal organization to expand the reed palate. His most recent effort, INTERVALS (Animul ANI 101-2), is an imposing and impressive two-CD set that finds him working out on alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet and shakuhachi.

Chalk to INTERVAL’s cheese, R.U.B. reflects the different impulses brought to the session by all three players. Moving from the edges of experimental tones to some of the most inside playing imaginable, subsequent tracks often change from those portentous with electronic drones, guttural Noh theatre vocalizations and aviary trills to ones like “Overstepper”. Here the buzzing R&B-like sax lines, clunky fuzztone rhythm guitar pattern and cymbal and snare combination, make it sound at times like an outside “Honky Tonk Woman”. However, a protracted bagpipe-style screech at the end takes it out of Jagger-Richards territory. This kind of Rolling Stones-meets-Eric Dolphy dichotomy also touches “Mal Venus”, the reedist’s one composition here. Other tunes, especially the shorter ones, are often little more than an establishing riff, though the inspiration seems to stem from Orientalism and Southern Fried Boogie in equal parts.

Throughout, Uchihashi also calls upon folk-style flat picking, pinched ukulele chording and what could be reverberations from a Jew’s harp and dog squeals, but which probably arise from the daxophone. Oddly enough, his one bit of writing has a reggae beat, while Bennett’s tune mixes electronic drums, a repetitive guitar line and an exaggerated sax vibrato, ending up suggesting ProgRock.

Much more interesting are some of the group’s instant compositions. There’s “Blue Grit”, where the buzzing of the bass clarinet reed soon dovetails into a musique concrète electronic drones and what sounds like a cartridge needle scratching an LP. Ghostly voices — from records? — then joins metallic guitar amplifier hums until Rothenberg’s split tone basso swoops for a proper celestial ending. “Adhere and Now”, on the other hand, matches trilling sax lines with electronic bleeps and manipulated guitar effects. A bell that seems to be summoning listeners to a gagaku tea ceremony vies for aural space with asymmetrical video game explosions and what appears to be percussive sounds produced by striking all the guitar strings with the palm of one hand.

An agreeable expression of Oriental-Occidental cooperation, R.U.B.’s improvisations need to develop a few more rugged edges to be truly exceptional and original. Possibly that’s on the way, though, considering this is the band’s first CD.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Inroad 2. Exacto 3. Overstepper 4. Work-a-day 5. Undercurrent 6. Fond Illusion 7. Adhere and Now 8. You Don’t Love What No Is 9. Mal Venus 10. Blue Grit 11. Reacharound 12. Gobble 13. Scenic Route

Personnel: Ned Rothenberg (alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet); Kazuhisa Uchihashi (guitar and effects, bass, daxophone); Samm Bennett (drums, percussion, electronics, records)