Masayuky Takayanagi New Directions’ first lineup on #neuguitars #blog

“Independence: Tread On Sure Ground” was recorded by the first line-up of New Directions (Takayanagi would have reused this name, in different variations, for different bands throughout his career), at Teichiku Kaikan Studio on September 18, 1969 (tracks 1-6 ) and February 2, 1970 (track 7). Track 7 was originally included in the “Guitar Workshop” compilation (Union Records, 1970) and later joined to the album with CD reissues in 1991 and 2007. The first lineup of New Direction was composed, as well as by the leader Takayanagi, double bass player Motoharu Yoshizawa (who had also played with the Togashi Quartet on “We Now Create”) and a young drummer named Toyozumi `Sabu’ Yoshisaburo. Toyozumi had just returned to Japan after playing for two years in hotel lounges in Southeast Asia and European clubs as a member of the huckster pop group “Micky Curtis And The Samurais”. After seeing Rashied Ali smash his new wire brushes in the space of just two pieces at John Coltrane’s Tokyo concerts in 1966, Toyozumi was ready to go wild. Their activities first concentrated mainly on the Nagisa jazz café, near the south exit of Shinjuku station. Because of their sound volume and way of playing, so uncompromising and lacking in melody and rhythm, they didn’t have many opportunities to play in more traditional jazz spaces. For rehearsals, New Directions settle on a lift-less first floor next to a Shinjuku tempura restaurant. This room was the official warehouse for the instruments of the Pit-Inn jazz club, but by the end of 1969 the critic Soejima Teruto negotiated to transform it into a venue dedicated to free jazz, which he renamed the New Jazz Hall.

Thus the Japanese critic Soejima Teruto describes the rehearsals of the trio, in his book “Free Jazz in Japan”:

“A tremendous blast of sound seemed to blow the air out of the windowless chamber. It was, in fact, an intensely creative sound. Wrapped around the machine gun staccato of Toyozumi Yoshisaburo’s drumming, Yoshizawa Motoharu’s bowed bass raised its voice in a low moan. And slashing all around them was Takayanagi Masayuki’s guitar. This was the real free jazz. The few dozen people who had chanced to gather to hear the performance were stunned motionless, riveted into the four walls of the room by the amazing sounds. One day at the end of August in 1969, a sweltering summer evening. In a second floor room of Shinjuku’s Pit Inn, a room that had previously been used as storage space for instruments. In those days Pit Inn was on a back street that led from Shinjuku to Yasukuni, around the back from the Kinokuniya bookstore. The jazz club was on the first floor and, between it and the tempura shop next door, there was a wide staircase leading up to a back room on the second floor where musicians would leave their instruments. On days when popular groups were scheduled to play, customers would line up early on the street in front, waiting for the doors to open. On this particular day, Hino Terumasa’s quintet was scheduled to play the club. This was shortly after their hit records Hakuchu no Shugeki (assault in broad daylight) and Hi-nology had been big hits. With his stylish black sunglasses, he would bend over to play up really high, delighting audiences that weren’t even jazz afficionados. So naturally, even an hour and a half before his show, there were already dozens of people lined up outside. A typical summer shower came along and threatened to soak them. The Pit Inn staff hastily led them up to the second floor to get them out of the rain, thinking they could wait there until opening time. Hearing a powerful wailing sound coming from the room at the back, everybody went to check it out. For almost all of them, it was their first time to hear the intense, swirling performance that was “Mass Projection.” (ed.: a signature Takayanagi composition.) They could feel their whole bodies being penetrated by this flaming jazz with no clear melody or beat. The sound surged like a tsunami, howled like a storm. And little by little it filled their hearts with an undefinable substance. At first the volume level seemed at the threshold of pain, but that sensation gradually yielded to one of pleasure. In the center of that room, where there was not even a hint of any fresh breeze, stood Takayanagi, like a temple guardian, playing his guitar. Yoshizawa’s glasses were fogging up in the heat. Toyozumi’s sweaty t-shirt was plastered to his body. Every pore in every body of this accidental audience was erupting with sweat, but, even more than the actual heat in the room, it was the heat of the sound that was causing them to sweat. By and by someone outside said, during a short pause, “The club is opening and the rain has stopped, so feel free to go downstairs.” Hardly anyone left. I remember it like it was yesterday. At that time, the Takayanagi Masayuki Trio were in rehearsal for what would be their recording the next month (September 19th) of Independence, for Teichiku Records. Having just formed the month before, it would be this unit’s first recording session, and more important than that, the record company director had commissioned a “free jazz” recording, so their rehearsals were intense. Since an audience of a few dozen people had suddenly materialized, the heat level of the session had leapt to white hot. It is easy to imagine that these three musicians, with their individual performance styles, were feeling the strong allure of playing in a free form style. Especially leader Takayanagi had been searching for some time for a new method of expression, one that he was finally able to achieve with Independence.”

The New Jazz Hall immediately became the premier venue for radical music in Tokyo, featuring offbeat bands such as the Taj Mahal Travelers and Now Music Ensemble, as well as poetry recitals and experimental movies by Kenneth Anger, Paul Sharits and the 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 methodology for improvisation based on Takayanagi’s theories on 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.”

The New Jazz Hall was not the only place to accept similar forms of radical avant-garde. A month after the recording of “Mass Projection” the trio performed at Station ’70, a bar with a live space in Shibuya, Tokyo. It was run by Yoshiaki Maki, the son of an important industrialist. The Station ’70, had an avant-garde design for the time (mirrored ceiling, a wall made up of TV screens, plastic furnitures) and hosted several performances by avant-garde artists from the world of free jazz, folk, art and dance. Station ’70 was closed at the end of January 1971, but had time to give the world a series of exciting lives1. On March 11 and 12, 1970 New Direction recorded two fully live albums at Station ’70: “Call In Question” and “Live Independence”, recordings that were released only many years later, in 1994 and 1995.

If in “Call In Question” we find three new titles: “Extraction”, “Intermittent” and “Excavation”, “Live Independence” is instead the ideal sequel to “Independence: Tread On Sure Ground” with two long reinterpretations of “Herdsman’s Pipe Of Spain ”and“ Mass Projection ”.

Two excellent albums in which I point out the acoustic / classical guitar version of “Herdsman’s Pipe Of Spain”, a true musical gem, still able to demonstrate without problems not only the high technical qualities of the guitarist, but also the broad spectrum vision of his music. The other pieces on the two records also show highly complex structures, where sounds arrive and break down according to incomprehensible patterns. The rhythms are completely altered and out of phase. It is as if the syllables of a word were written on a school blackboard, one after the other, but we were unable to link them together in a coherent way, nor to extract a plausible meaning from them. It is possible to distinguish the sound units, but not their temporal continuity.

Describing means trying and accepting approximations that always bring us a little closer to what we want to say, and at the same time always leave us a little dissatisfied. In the infinite universe of music there are always other avenues to explore, new or very old, styles and forms that can change our image of the world. From this point of view Takayanagi Masayuki represents the last great invention of a musical genre: the invention of himself as a narrator. A methodology that has allowed him to overcome every creative block. Each album doubles or multiplies its space through other records, other musicians and music taken from a library as imaginary as real. With Takayanagi Masayuki was born a music raised to the square and at the same time a music as an extraction of the square root of itself: a potential music.