Otomo Yoshihide’s Guitar Solos


I saw Otomo Yoshihide and his New Jazz Quintet playing on a quiet spring evening in Venice at the Teatro Fondamenta Nuove in May 2005. It was a nice evening, very intense, highly charged, I remember a close-knit band that moved effortlessly their sound waves between standards, flurries free jazz, noise and melodies. Never banal. That evening I saw Yoshihide take up and playing a guitar, an ES 175, if I remember correctly: it was a nice surprise, all I had first heard of him was about music and works conceived by lap tops and electronics, I did not know anything about his past as a guitar player.

Actually I found that Yoshihide, composer, improviser, one of the main actor in the Japanese radical / impro  scene, had spent years as a serious jazz guitarist and in his youth he had studied with the great Masayuki Takayanagi. About this master of Japanese free jazz  who died in 1991, Julian Cope wrote in his “Japrogsampler”: “… one of those daring extremes that combine, in a forty-year career, on one hand virtuosity and absolute mastery about music theory, on the other free atonal rock-splitting amplifiers, a source of inspiration and rages for every contemporary. “

A flawless definition that can not collect at least some curiosity about it. Too bad that his records are the subject of wild collecting with simply prohibitive costs, I’m looking for his guitar solo works form several years but it seems I need a money transfer from Fort Knox to buy one of them.

It’s easier to look for Yoshihide’s guitar solo cds that are only two, the first entitled “Guitar Solo performed by Otomo Yoshihide 12th October 2004 @ Shinjuku Pit Inn, Tokyo +1” released in 2005 for doubtmusic, while a few months ago the same record company, directed by Jun Numata and focused on free improvisation, free jazz and Onkyo, produced the following entitled “Guitar Solo 2015 LEFT”.

I bought it a few days ago and it pushed me to listen to again the first cd solo made me in 2005, in search of the differences, similarities and, perhaps, of my judgments and my intuitions of a few years ago.

One of the beauties of music is that SHE does not change, while WE do it. Music, especially if recorded, is a concentrate moment on the tip of a fork. We change, we get mature and listen to it again we vary our judgments, our ideas and perhaps by doing so we realize better about time passing, but I digress.

These two records are for me complementary and can be heard in succession, as individual episodes of a creative process that is all moving and growing. Both works clearly highlight two aspects of the music of Yoshihide: the large, quiet breath of the pieces played with acoustic guitar and harsh and “intense” sounds in the songs played with electric one. Yoshihide alternates gentle and refined atmosphere as those of Theme from Canary by Akihiko Shiota and Gomen of Shin Togashi (our musician seems to be very interested in the avant-garde Japanese movies) to true sound terrorist incidents like Rig, Roulette and Cylinder. One of the characteristics of Yoshihide seems that he knows how to alternate moments of absolute, atonal and furious noise to melodic moments of quiet, along with the ability to rework in a decidedly indipendent ways, jazz standards like Mood Indigo, Misty and Lonely Woman by Ornette Coleman .
About Lonely Woman: if you type “Otomo Yoshihide lonely woman” on youtube you will find a nice selection of different versions of this song, performed in solo, in trio and in quintet. It seems that this passage is a fixture in the music of this musician, a theme, a gym yet to test, to experiment, to start again.
“Guitar Solo performed by Otomo Yoshihide 12th October 2004 @ Shinjuku Pit Inn, Tokyo +1” concludes with this passage, with a ladybug that at the end of the song hit the microphone starting a feedback absolutely in contrast with what was played a few seconds before, a curious fact that Yoshihide has decided not only to leave in the recording of the CD, but also to explain the liner notes and a stylized drawing in the CD itself.

We find this passage in “Guitar Solo 2015 LEFT” as the second piece of the CD, after starting with Song for Che by Charlie Haden. If in the first album the song lasted more than seven minutes, here it becomes a half-marathon of over fifteen minutes! In ten years the song Ornette Coleman has changed his physiognomy, has not only expanded but it has turned from a ballad into something much more complex, articulated and tortuous. Perhaps in an homage and an implicit memory to his teacher Masayuki Takayanagi, that to this music had dedicated the titles of two of his albums, Lonely Woman and Lonely Woman Live. No coincidence that in this last record Yoshihide plays a Gibson ES-175 that was just belonged to Masayuki and that he dedicates to his former master several beautiful words, in a way reconciled with him after the abrupt interruption of their relationship that took place 23 years ago.
The album continues with another torrential track, The Blue Kite another 15 minutes only, and Machi no Hi (2:15), Kyokun I (6:46) and the last 2020 Tokyo.
They are two very special records: in both we can capture a deep vein of free jazz, noise, the desire to deconstruction, to bring even further the limits of a sincere and stubborn avangard. As Joe Morris, Yoshihide also makes a little use of pedals and effects, an amplifier and a guitar seem more than enough to be able to express their ideas, thoughts and to be able to generate all the sounds they need. His guitar is outside the standard we are used to, is not just a matter of being rock, metal, jazz or avant-garde: Yoshihide as Derek Bailey, Fred Frith, Joe Morris is able to create his own world, a world in constant evolution. I’m wait for his next solo release.

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