1969 was a hot year for Japan. The country, like the rest of the world. seethed with unsatisfied energies, violent conflicts, cultural, social and political frictions. The world of Jazz was no exception and these two records, over time, became not only two milestones of Japanese free jazz, but also two photographs, two snapshots of a specific, unrepeatable historical moment. Shinjuku was one of the telluric centers of the riots and clashes with the police, as well as a fertile laboratory of cultural pollination. Neon lights, gigantic colored writings, mega screens, music and sounds of all kinds, voices of sellers, skyscrapers. People, people everywhere. Now Shinjuku is known as the business and shopping west district of Tokyo. This neighborhood is now an icon of Japanese modernity, a trope for both Japanese and international audiences: the teeming termite mound of a station, the busiest transport hub in the city, which handles over two million commuters a day; the consumer paradise of the many interconnected department stores in the area; the cliché of the travel show of the area’s main artery. A multi-layered complex of color, movement and modernity. At the same time it effortlessly evokes an exciting thrill of dirt and danger. Of the several dozen Japanese films that have Shinjuku in the title, nearly all of them are placed in the illicit worlds of crime and sex. Directors such as Miike Takashi (Shinjuku Triad Society) particularly idealized the Kabukicho subsection, a couple of blocks filled with pimps, cheaters, bars, strip clubs, gambling dens and sex affairs, a bloodstained cross-cultural battlefield between mafia gangs. Shinjuku’s seedy sex culture, from the boring fantasies curated by the heterosexual businesses dealing in Kabukicho’s heterosexual market to the famous gay bar group around Nichome, has been documented by photographers such as Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki, and Jim O’Connell. Shinjuku’s association with sex and crime is built on layers of historical sediment. Nineteenth-century storytellers sang the exploits of illicit prostitutes who solicited travelers when the area was still a post office on the outskirts of the city. In the immediate postwar period, Shinjuku was home to one of the busiest gangster-run black markets in the city, as well as brothels for soldiers.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Shinjuku managed, however, to build a reputation as an artistic and political hotbed, an incubator of creative approaches to art born between the famous Kiinokuniya bookstore, the tiny bars and artists’ haunts of Golden-Gai (celebrated in Wim Wenders’ Tokyo Ga), Kabukicho’s jazz and classic cafes and Nichome’s gay bars. The creative energies of the artists were partly fueled by the climate of revolt in the streets. The self-sacrificing mood that underpinned the postwar “economic miracle” had begun to fade into discontent with corrupt politicians and anger at the Vietnam War and American imperialism. Throughout 1968 and 1969, seven student riots burned college campuses across Japan. It took 8,000 police officers, equipped with water cannons, tear gas and finally hand-to-hand combat, to break the most famous occupation of the University of Tokyo in two days. During the early summer of 1969, the east exit of Shinjuku Station hosted various anti-war concerts by so-called “people’s guerrillas”. Attracting first hundreds and then thousands of supporters, these rallies were structured around polemic speeches and anti-war statements. The fruits of Shinjuku’s avant-garde culture in the late 1960s, particularly its subversive film and theater cultures, were well documented. Directors such as Oshima Nagisa (Diary of a Thief from Shinjuku 1968), Wakamatsu Koji and Adachi Masao used the area as a backdrop, inspiration and psycho-geographical actor in itself. Playwright, director and actor Kara Jfiro was another important figure in Shinjuku’s avant-garde, the anarchic energies of his theatrical performances in the famous red tent of Hanazono Shrine attracted radical students, intellectuals and political agitators. Many of these artists made use of the musical avant-garde (Kara invited Yosuke Yamashita’s group to provide musical support for many of his shows; drummer Togashi Masahiko and tenor sax Takagi Mototeru provided the soundtrack for Adachi Ryakusho’s film ” Renzoku shasatsuma ”), the area was home to several important venues for nascent experimental jazz, radical folk and acid rock.
This was therefore the backdrop against which the trio New Directions came to life and where their first album was recorded. “Jojo” Masayuki Takayanagi was one of the few Japanese jazz musicians to push against the rigid constraints of orthodox swing, bop and modal jazz. Born in 1932 in Tokyo, Takayanagi dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to become a musician. Turning pro after three years of hard study, cutting his teeth in jazz bands such as Nishi Ryosaburo’s Quintet, Daddy Little Combo and Sakuma Makio’s Jokers Quintet, the young Takayanagi soon earned a reputation for his extraordinary technique and ability. to read at a glance any music placed in front of him. Despite having a prestigious and comfortable career behind him, his musical restlessness led him to form a series of short-lived groups. In the early 1950s, apparently it was 1954, he put together his first group New Direction, a radical guitar – vibraphone – double bass – drums quartet, which shared the contemporary US developments of Teddy Charles and Gerry Mulligan. Later, in 1961 with the Jazz Academy Quartet, he made his first escape from the dominance of the rigid four-strokes of jazz to experiment with freer rhythms. The following year Takayanagi, bassist Kanai Hideto, and painter Kageyama Isamu formed an AACM-style collective of musicians called the New Century Music Research Institute. Every Friday, members gathered in a Ginza chanson bar called Gin-Paris, to push the boundaries of jazz creativity. The standard rhythms, the ‘banal’ four quarters, were immediately thrown out in favor of more risky and exciting solutions. Today, some of the collective’s experiments seem to possess a naive and excessive formalism: guitars played without strings or with random tunings, game pieces created by distributing cards with randomly written chords on them in order to elaborate melodically deconstructed pieces, pieces based on the rhythm of the code Morse, Rorschach inkblot tests used as graphic scores and so on. But for the spirit of free experimentation and the unexpected, this collective was a breath of fresh air in Tokyo’s quiet jazz scene. These first experiments started in 1968 and 1969, when the radical wing of the jazz scene moved west through the city to Shinjuku. Established jazz cafes like Nagisa and Taro and dedicated venues like Pit-Inn and the New Jazz Hall provided some space for experimental-minded jazz musicians whose music has been shunned by Ginza’s more orthodox clubs. A number of notable groups have their roots in this period, such as Yamashita Yosuke’s trio with bassist Yoshizawa Motoharu and Takagi Mototeru’s tenor sax, and units led by drummer Togashi Masahiko and pianist Sato Masahiko, trained in Berkley. . Each incorporated free-form ideas and structures at various levels. But I think it was Takayanagi who generated the most radical break with conventional and mainstream jazz.
On May 23, 1969 the independent record company Victor1 recorded an album, a classic Japanese free jazz record, “We Now Create”, with the quartet with Togashi Masahiko as leader and with the presence of Masayuki Takayanagi, Mototeru Takagi and Motoharu Yoshizawa. The record shared the honors of the Japan Jazz Prizes with “Palladium” by the Sato Masahiko Trio. The era of free jazz had begun. “We Now Create” is a masterpiece created by four people who intensely explore the true nature of their instruments. Takayanagi’s use of feedback guitar, Takagi’s lyricism of tenor sax and cornpipe flute, Yoshizawa’s flawless bass sound, and of course Togashi’s intricate and powerful drumming were the declaration of the arrival of a new era. Many Japanese jazz fans first understood the creativity of free jazz by listening to this record. In his book “Free Jazz in Japan”, Soejima Teruto writes that he ran into Yoshizawa at the Pit Inn the day they finished recording and that he laughed, “We just made a great record. The only thing they told me was not to play any tremolo, but… I did. I still think it was okay.” By incorporating elegant scraps of feedback to this album, in its own way so rigorous, austere and impressionistic, Takayanagi was able to give some effective indication of how far his thinking had progressed.
The 1969/1970 line-up of New Directions (Takayanagi would have reused this name, in different variations, for different bands throughout his career) reunited in August 1969. It was composed by bassist Motoharu Yoshizawa (who had also played with the Togashi Quartet in “We Now Create”) and a young young drummer named Toyozumi `Sabu ‘Yoshisaburo. Toyozumi had just returned to Japan after playing hotel lounges in Southeast Asia and European clubs for two years as a member of the huckster pop group Micky Curtis And The Samurais. After seeing Rashied Ali destroy his new wire brushes in the space of just two songs at John Coltrane’s Tokyo concerts in 1966, he was now ready to go wild. They concentrated their activities on the Nagisa jazz café, near the south exit of Shinjuku station. Due to the volume of their playing and their uncompromising approach devoid of melody and rhythm, they did not have many opportunities to play in more traditional jazz spaces. Nagisa was a hangout for hippies and street folks, and people who were made of Haiminaru sleeping pills, still legal at the time, could be seen dozing off, sometimes even on stage. Yoshizawa enjoyed pushing them to the sides to fix his equipment. Once the performance began, they joined the people who had come for the music in appreciating free jazz. Hippies and street people have something in common with free jazz. They were all outsiders.
It was really noisy. Takayanagi always threw his amplifier at maximum volume. Yoshizawa complained that he couldn’t hear himself and ended up using a bigger bass amp. They competed for whoever played the loudest. Soejima Teruto reports that Takayanagi argued that: “There is so much information to relate that the volume naturally gets louder and louder.”. Sometimes he would take a chain and jingle it, slide it over the strings, or at other times, hit the strings with a stick a little thicker than a pencil, creating incredible sounds.
New Directions rehearsed in a first floor with no elevator next to a Shinjuku tempura restaurant. This room was officially the Pit-Inn’s instrument repository, but by the end of the year critic Soejima Teruto negotiated to turn it into a free jazz venue, which he renamed the New Jazz Hall. It immediately became the premier venue for radical music in Tokyo, featuring out-of-the-ordinary bands such as the Taj Mahal Travelers and Now Music Ensemble, as well as poetry recitals and experimental film screenings by Kenneth Anger, Paul Sharits and young Japanese directors Iimura Takahiko and Fujii Seiichi. Throughout that scorching August, Takayanagi, Yoshizawa and Toyozumi shut themselves up in this windowless space, developing an entirely new Japanese methodology for improvisation based on Takayanagi’s theories of progressive art. Toyozumi, the last survivor of the original trio, remembers the certainty with which the guitarist presented his new ideas. He told them: “Play forte at all times. Don’t repeat any phrases. Listening to what the others are playing and trying to play along is strictly forbidden. No collaboration, run down your own path.”
This sounds more like a philosophy than a musical method or approach. Playing with others in a group is something deeply rooted in jazz musicians. They couldn’t just ignore each other. Destroying these customs, overturning these conventions, represented a Dadaist act aimed at creating a new musical space through the total destruction of everything that had come before. But they could also be read as a step forward, a necessary evolutionary development if music was to continue to possess vitality and a sense of connection with contemporary life. And that was what Takayanagi was looking for. Takayanagi could be dismissive of anyone who did not live up to his rigorous standards, musicians, critics or audiences. He hated those who professed the avant-garde but who did not know the historical development of their music, those who preferred to imitate the sure clichés of imported jazz styles or indulge in entertainment, those who tried to impress with prose laden with misunderstood foreign terms. . Far from an arid academicism, Takayanagi, with his relentless study of musical form and method and the historical conditions in which they arose, came to the inevitable conclusion that improvisation itself was both the only approach to music that could confront the complex political realities of contemporary Japanese society, and the means to short-circuit one’s propensities towards a stoic and arid academicism.
Listening to “Piranha” and “Mass projection”, you can get a better insight into what Takayanagi was coming up with. Mass Projection was not only one of the most used titles by Takayanagi and in this cd the bonus track taken from the LP “Guitar Workshop” by Kiyoshi Sugimoto, Ryo Kawasaki, Yoshiaki Masuo, Masayuki Takayanagi, but something more in the development of his musical form . It seems to indicate a dense, fast and chaotic coloring of space that destroys the listener’s perception of time, and therefore of musical development. Apparently Mass Projection allows for a greater amount of silence and therefore an appreciation of the spatial arrangement of subsequent musical events within it, but at the same time confirms the importance of the very high sound volume with which the trio played. I find it interesting to draw a parallel between Takayanagi’s musical developments and the civil unrest on the streets of Tokyo in 1969. In that year a whole series of problems and social and political tensions came to a head, and the world of music was not indifferent. Although many artists preferred to align themselves with an already well-tested commercial model, there was, and Takayanagi was one of them, who preferred to make alternative choices and focus on new forms of experimentation more in line with the turbulent dynamics expressed by society and contemporaneity. . “We now create” and “Independence tread on sure ground” are part of this vision.
1Victor was the leading American record label launched in late December 1900 in the United States by Victor Talking Machine Co. In 1927, Victor established a branch in Japan. In 1929, the Victor Talking Machine Company was absorbed by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). During the Second World War, hostilities between Japan and the United States caused Victor’s Japanese branch to be sold by RCA, thus becoming an independent Japanese company. In 1946, the Victor label was replaced by the new RCA Victor label in most territories and in 1968, it became known as RCA Records. In Japan, however, the Victor label continues to exist; it is currently owned by Tokyo-based company Victor Entertainment, Inc