December 2, 2018
Kaoru Abe/Sabu Toyozumi
NoBusiness Records NBCD 107
Manila Free Jazz No #
Almost 40 years separate these two live sessions, but the person providing the cultivated rhythmic connections is the same: Sabu Toyozumi, now 74. One of Japan’s Free Music pioneers along with Masayuki Takayanagi and Kaoru Abe, Toyozumi has also played with the likes of Derek Bailey and John Russell. Acknowledge today as an authoritative beat-maker in the class of fellow veterans Han Bennink and Milford Graves, he continues on the unconventional exploratory music path, sometimes working with Japanese noise bands and also soloing on the erhu.
Complementary in their unyielding commitment to free expression, both CDs reflect much divergent situations. Recorded in two sessions in Tokyo, Mannyoka is likely the last document of the drummer’s partnership with Abe (1949-1978), who died from a pill overdose a few months later. It comes from a time of little acceptance for such uncompromising sounds, although at the time the two were the equivalent of Ornette Coleman and Sunny Murray for that music in that country. Recorded in Manila, JYA-NE is a much different document. Although improvised music has never achieved a large audience, by the 21st Century it’s recognized as valid internationally with imput from players from nearly everywhere. Besides Toyozumi, the core group here features local bassist Simon Tan, and expatriate American alto saxophonist Rick Countryman, who early on worked with Michael Bisio and Bert Wilson. On the longest and title track, the three are joined by other Filipinos, trombonist Isla Antinero and vocalist Stella Ignacio, who usually work in a more traditional context.
Like a stream of consciousness dream or nightmare telepathically shared by two friends, the five tracks on Mannyoka prove that the duo was perfectly matched, with the drummer’s subtle techniques on all parts of his kit, providing the mooring for and commentary on the mercurial improvising of Abe, which due to later circumstances may appear more tortured in execution than it was meant to be. Both energetic and rigid, Abe’s playing was uncompromising even for Free Jazz with his narratives studded with honking slurs, double-tonguing glossolalia, altissimo wails and jagged multiphonics that threatened to turn every solo into a lament, but with expositions often reduced to split tone peeps that almost glowed with angry astringency. Because of that the drummer varies his responses from distracted cymbal scratches to precise raps and rolls, though each completes the scenario fittingly.
Abe’s interface is such that on a track like “Song for Sakamoto Kikuyo - Part II”, he reaches a protracted section with a bagpipe-like blare when he appears to be creating in the reed’s highest pitch while advancing irregular vibrations at a moderate speed. The completion of that program with “Song for Sakamoto Kikuyo - Part III” depends on Toyozumi’s double plops and hollow-sounding rebounds, which shrink from thunderous to slow burn, to create a consistent connection to the saxophonist’s wild and almost unassailable tongue slaps and stops, irregular vibrations and flattened vibrations. Still if there’s one usual phrase on the CD’s entire 73 minutes, it comes in the penultimate minutes of “For Mithue Totozumi - Part II” where for a brief moment Abe starts to play what sounds like a Great American Songbook phrase, then thinking better of it, buries the melody under squeaks, screeches and split tones.
Although a vocalist is present on JYA-NE, there are no tunes, with the only suggestion of that appearing during the ending of the final “My Last Position” when Countryman sounds the head of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman”. Besides that the focus is on the close-knit interface among the trio members and then with their guests. In truth, while affecting, Ignacio vocalization which ranges from Daisy Duck-like squeals, atonal squeals and speaking-in-tongue edginess; and Antinero’s plunger harmonies often allied with Countryman’s slippery sax lines; are more rococo than resonant. The equivalent of adding ornate decorations to the capable hard-edge painting that is the trio’s work, their contributions aren’t as meritorious as Tan’s unfussy electric bass intermezzo, which he handles with guitar-like facility, and in rhythm collaboration is as penetrating as it is percussive.
More germane are the three trio tracks. “Soul Passage” the erhu feature, brings an unexpected gentleness to the program as the traditional instrument’s ghostly high-pitched timbres mix with the thick double stopping from the bassist as the theme bounces among the two string players and sliding sax tones. Meanwhile the quiet determination in the reed narrative that is constantly prodded by Toyozumi’s cymbal emphasis reaches its climax on the lengthy “My Last Position”. Jackhammer-hard drumming and sluicing string variations allow Countryman scope for extended tonal shading and expression. In context, this flutter tonguing, irregular vibrations and Aylerian cries stay wedded to the narrative, as does the drummer’s inventive pitter-patter and faux door-knocking-like power and the bassist’s sophisticated runs. During the course of this tremolo onslaught, Countryman at intervals appears to be playing two melodies simultaneously. The logic of this strategy along with the drummer’s reflective and rebounding pressure create an arrangement that climaxes cumulatively, with the finale signaled by that Coleman quote.
The duo CD is a valuable addition to Abe’s – and Toyozumi’s – too thin discography. Meanwhile JYA-NE shows that the years haven’t diminished the drummer’s facility. It also provides more exposure to musicians whose own interpretation of free music, is far outside the expected geographical parameters of the big-time Jazz scene.
Track Listing: Mannyoka: 1. Song for Mithue Totozumi - Part I 2. Song for Mithue Totozumi - Part II 3. Song for Sakamoto Kikuyo - Part I 4. Song for Sakamoto Kikuyo - Part II 5. Song for Sakamoto Kikuyo - Part III
Personnel: Mannyoka: Kaoru Abe (alto, sopranino and soprano saxophones) and Sabu Toyozumi (drums and percussion)
Track Listing: JYA-NE: 1. Mosquito Exception 2. Soul Passage 3. Jya-Ne* 4. My Last Position
Personnel: JYA-NE: Isla Antinero* (trombone); Rick Countryman (alto saxophone); Simon Tan (bass and electric bass); Sabu Toyozumi (drums and erhu) and Stella Ignacio* (voice)