Kaoru Abe

19770916@Ayler, Sapporo
DoubtMusic dmh 171

One of the Jimi Hendrix-like legends of Free Jazz, Japanese alto saxophonist Kaoru Abe epitomized the “live fast, die young” mindset. From the time in 1968 when he dropped out of high school and started playing obsessively until he overdosed 10 years later at 29, he was gigging nearly every day at concerts, clubs and kissas (coffee houses). Although associated with other pioneering Nipponese sound- shatterers, Abe’s habits, thorny personality and need for constant musical stimulation usually means he played alone. 19770916@Ayler, Sapporo is a newly discovered typically admirable instance of this recorded in 1977 at a long defunct kissa of the same name.

While like the most frenetic 1960s New Thinger it appeared that Abe had no filter when improvising, close listening to these four, almost stream of consciousness improvisations, reveals unexpected divergences in his sound. From the very first improvisation he usually operates in full screech mode, sliding his timbres from top of range squeaks down to basement tones that seemed scooped out of instrument’s bell-curve. He also includes super fast split tones and shutters that sound like rooster crows mixed with cuckoo bird repetitions.

However the two middle improvisations reveal some melodic moments among the squawks, tone stabs and solid mass of doits and flattement that characterized the rest of his playing. There’s a sequence during the third improvisation where he constructs a brief Bizarro take on “Lonely Woman” and later suggests a less familiar anthem-like theme before returning to widened multiphonics, slashing to tonal ribbons the pseudo-beauty of the themes. “Solo Improvisation 2” exposes both motifs. Punctuated with protracted silences, a delicate motif is heard for a few seconds, but most of the time Abe’s staccato peeps and irregularly vibrated tones are projected with such ferocity that he seems close to shattering the saxophone’s reed and metal with sheer power. Here and elsewhere a favored strategy is to play a single tone over and over, returning to it time and again as if to squeeze out the last remaining drop of musical juice.

Like Albert Ayler, no one knows how Abe’s music would have developed had he lived another 10 or 20 years. But although apparently tossed off one night with no knowledge that someone was taping him for posterity, 19770916@Ayler, Sapporo indicates just how advanced and individual his improvising was one year before his death.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Solo Improvisation 19770916-1 2. Solo Improvisation 19770916-2 3. Solo Improvisation 19770916-3 4. Solo Improvisation 19770916-4

Personnel: Kaoru Abe (alto saxophone)