Deconstructed Exchange or Deconstructive Empathy … Free Jazz without compromise with the duo Masayuki Takayanagi e Kaoru Abe on #neuguitars #blog
The term “cult” is an ontological shortcut that indicates an exceptional and timeless status. When it comes to records, this attribute is often linked to factors such as the qualities of the musicians and their rarity, as in the case of the album Kaitaiteki Kokan (sometimes also written as Kaitai Teki Kokan), recorded by the duo Masayuki Takayanagi and Kaoru Abe . The title, which can be translated into English as Deconstructed Exchange or Deconstructive Empathy, explicitly refers to both the music contained in the record and the situation that arises on stage when two musicians exchange ideas and “deconstruct” them on an ongoing basis. .
Behind this recently reissued CD, the “cult” factor, its exceptional status is reflected both materially and emotionally. The album was released in 1970 in Japan, in only, it is said, 100 copies. It is one of the rarest albums ever, is very rarely offered at auctions and has never been traded on Discogs.com. There are rumors that it was sold for a maximum price of 4,000 US dollars. It is therefore an obscure collector’s item for true fanatics. But that’s not enough. This album shows an equally important status as a form of artistic expression, this is because it is one of the most radical demonstrations of free jazz music, not just Japanese.
The album was recorded by two Japanese musicians known for their extreme positions: Masayuki Takayanagi (高 柳 昌 行) – electric guitar and Abe Kaoru (阿 部 薫) – saxophone. The album was recorded live, during the concert held on June 28, 1970 at the Kōsei Nenkin Kaikan hall in the city of Shinjuku. Masayuki Takayanagi also appears as a record producer, while the sound engineer is Kozuo Kenmochi. In addition to the saxophone, Abe Kaoru also plays the bass clarinet and harmonica.
MASAYUKI TAKAYANAGI, born on December 22, 1932 in Tokyo. he began his professional career in 1951. He founded his he first of many groups called New Direction in 1954. Since then, he has been a key member in almost every avant-garde musical group in Japan. This is not the first time that I have dealt with him and you can find other posts about his activity on my blog:
MASAYUKI TAKAYANAGI’S NEW DIRECTION: IS APRIL THE CRUELLEST MONTH? ON #NEUGUITARS #BLOG
VOLUME VERSUS MASSES, MASAYUKI TAKAYANAGI PLAYS “AXIS/ANOTHER REVOLVABLE THING” (2LP BUNDLE/ 2CD), BLANK FORMS, 2020
Takayanagi was a true ousider, never having been taken into consideration by the mainstream music press. He died on June 23, 1991.
ABE KAORU was a Japanese free jazz musician and saxophonist, known not only for his music, but also for his crazy, wild life and his wife, Suzuki Izumi, a popular science fiction novelist. He was born on May 3, 1949 in Kawasaki, in the Kanagawa district. He left school at age 17, moving to Shinjuku, a city that then, as now, seems to have been a kind of center for counterculture and a welcoming environment for the kind of music he would continue to play. Completely self-taught, he made his debut at the age of 19, managing to develop his own technique on the saxophone. His playing was deeply rooted in the hours he spent practicing alone; most of his recordings and performances of him are solo (it seems that this was due to his tendency to literally play above potential collaborators), leading him to have a reputation as a rather “selfish” musician. The normal pattern for Japanese jazz musicians was in fact to study with older professionals, practice regularly with other musicians, and eventually make their professional debut. Abe broke these rules from the start. He died on December 9, 1978 in Nakano (a district of Tokyo), from a drug overdose.
The Kaitaiteki Kokan (Kaitai Teki Kokan) album was originally released in 1970 as an LP. The first reissue was produced in 1999 by the DIW record label, while a year later some additional copies of the reissue were released. In 2017, Craftman Records, specializing in reissues of Japanese albums, mainly jazz music, released the first 180g black vinyl reissue.
The CD you see in the photos is a very elegant “mini LP”, a replica of the vinyl version, with a beautiful black paper cover with silver letters. In order not to alter the graphic composition, the OBI has also been reduced. The disc was printed using Ultimate HighQualityCD (UHQCD) technology, an improved version of the HQCD. The intensity of the music is overwhelming and literally hits you in the head like a baseball bat, so the technical aspect of the musical message, the quality of the sound, becomes less important to me. The reissue of the Kaitaiteki Kokan album, in fact, was not made using the analog master tape or its digital copy, but directly from an LP, with a technique called “needle drop”. Listening to the cd with headphones you will hear an imperceptible background noise: it seems that the disc has been remastered with the aim of eliminating high-frequency components and noises, but without carrying out a total removal of the noise. The instruments are recorded from a distance, have little volume and the frequencies are concentrated in the mids. Their sound is penetrating, including the harmonica that enters the first minute of the second track. The electric guitar was recorded by a microphone placed in front of the amplifier. Penetrating and, at times, almost irritating. Not for how they sound, but for the music itself. If I had to make a comparison, the interaction between the two tools is more like a street discussion than a conversation. I don’t know how the sound engineers did it, but the end result isn’t tiring anyway. Of course, provided this is the music you are looking for. The recording volume is low, has virtually no depth or texture, but is still interesting, engaging and mesmerizing. I would define this album as follows: a mesmerizing and subliminal message. After the initial shock, the musicians give 100% from the start, we start to accept it and then we get involved in the musical message. The sound obviously isn’t the best it can be, but after a moment we stop paying attention to how it all sounds, or even the music that is being played, as we are in a parallel universe, out of time and out of planet Earth. Recorded on June 28, 1970 and released in September of the same year, this record has always been seen as an important meeting between two of the most important exponents of Japanese free music. It is perhaps the most heavily fetishized record that has ever emerged from the Japanese underground. As I said before, it’s a cult record. Abe played his first duo with Takayanagi on May 7 of that year, a concert that was announced as “Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction” (the concert flyer was apparently titled “New direction for all who are interest in jazz “and subtitled, in Japanese,” Projection toards the annihilation of jazz “); the June 28 concert that was released as Kaitaiteki kokan was confusingly advertised as New Direction. Fans are probably still debating whether the record is more correctly labeled as a Takayanagi / New Direction (s) album or as a Takayanagi / Abe duo. Regardless, DIW opted for the latter form. The two continued to play together for a few more concerts under the name Takayanagi New Direction, adding Yamazaki to the group; their last concert was in early October, after which the association between Takayanagi and Abe seems to have ended. The music resembles a pitched battle, with the two appearing to play against each other: Takayanagi, on electric guitar, plays in a recognizable “jazz” style, amplifying and distorting the motifs, methodically separating them with a subtle feedback tone and harshly brittle which is often irritating to hear; Abe moans regardless, full of bravado and seemingly paying little attention to his partner, behavior not entirely atypical for him at this point in his career. The two for the most part sound like they’re playing at the same time but not together, and moments of interaction are few and far between. This record represents an extreme case of an inclination towards autonomy in improvised music, well beyond the anarchist cageian liberalism. The two musicians seem to prefer confrontation and argument, attacking each other before the commonality can solidify into a convention. An album that still sounds extraordinary: the expression of something primary, almost prehuman, in which the stable musical space is replaced by a sound world torn from the release of psychic energy, on the point of disintegrating into chaos. An attitude not very dissimilar from that of their own lives. Like Abe, Takayanagi has left an indelible mark on the world of musical counterculture. In his best period, alone or with his New Direction Unit (also known in various places as New Directions and New Direction For The Arts), he operated at a very high level of inspiration, perhaps higher than that of Sonny Sharrock, one of the few comparable figures, and Takayanagi’s recordings from that decade are just examples of what is possible when the technique and skill of improvisation, the energy and dissonance of free jazz and the loudness and aggressiveness of music rocks meet inside a gravitational black hole. His influence can clearly be seen in modern heavyweights such as Rudolph Gray (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolph_Grey ) and Stefan Jaworzyn (https://www.thewire.co.uk/audio/tracks/ listen_stefan-jaworzyn-music ). Unfortunately, Takayanagi also possessed an uncompromising character, quickly managing to get completely offside with the jazz establishment in a fairly short amount of time, living a forcibly marginal musical existence.
This record is not the only result of their collaboration. After “Kaitai Teki Kohkan” DIW produced “Mass Projection” and “Gradually Projection”, which are always kept to the same high standard and which are also collector’s items that I am looking to buy.
The two are out of any rule, whether it is to keep jazz in standards or to wedge rock towards refrains suitable for sale, mixing everything to the extreme, giving improvisation a new, more shining and bastard form. Repudiated by the Puritans, they did nothing to counter this trend. They went on alone. Careless.
Recently Jinya Records has produced two other CDs: “Station ’70”, the result of the recordings of the concert held on June 18 and in May or June 1970, in Tokyo. The second cd is titled “Jazzbed”, live recording at Jazzbed which took place on 27 September 1970, also in Tokyo, with the presence of the drummer Hiroshi Yamazaki. All with the same level of energy, creativity and brilliant madness.
I wonder if there might be some musician like that today, but I don’t think so. I think Abe and Takayanagi were two “products” of a specific historical moment and a particular subculture. Forced to operate in a cultural periphery, they have struggled all their lives to be able to express their music, accepting a role of outsider that has slowly elevated them to the level of “cult” I was talking about at the beginning of this post. Their music has been handed down thanks to a circle, to a group of loyal fans who have slowly grown, finding admirers even outside of Japan. Today they are reliving a second youth thanks to a targeted series of excellent reprints. Welcome to the cult.