Improvisation and the Tee&Company team on #neuguitars #blog #TakayanagiMasayuki
Musical forms are instruments, and genuinely new ones are few and far between. If, like me, you think that cultural changes are essentially driven by technology and society, you have to pay attention to Japan. There are several reasons for this, and they are deeply rooted in history. I think the Japanese love “futuristic” things because they’ve been living in the future for so long now. Their story, another form of speculative fiction, explains why. The Japanese have basically been kicked repeatedly, further and further down the timeline, by national traumas that have occurred in serial cadences. Like us Italians, they have lived the last one hundred and fifty years in a state of profound, almost constant change. The 20th century was like a rocket sled ride for Japan, with successive bundles of fuel igniting spontaneously, one after another. It can’t have been easy, they must all have gone crazy for a short time, but then they somehow got together and moved on. The industrial revolution for them came whole, in full kit: steamers, railways, telegraphy, factories, Western medicine, division of labour, a mechanized army and the political will to use it. Then those Americans struck the first Asian industrial society again with the light of a thousand suns – twice, and very hard – and so the war ended. At that point the aliens arrived in force, this time with briefcases and industrial plans, determined to impose a cultural retrofit on their scorched earth. Some central aspects of the feudal-industrial core were left intact, while other areas of the nation’s political and business culture were heavily grafted with American fabric, resulting in hybrid forms…and a gnawing longing for the future. Japan has been able to conquer a very central and very important place in terms of the global economy. Even today, although we are a long way from the heyday of the asset bubble, I still believe that Japan is the default setting of the global imagination for the future. It seems to me that the Japanese live several clicks ahead of us along the timeline, they sure are the quintessential early adapters, and even though I’m into musical storytelling, I think I’d pay serious attention to this. They’ve been doing it for more than a century now, and they really do have the edge over the rest of us, if only in terms of what we used to call “future shock” (but which is now simply the one constant in all of our lives).
The techno-cultural flexibility that Japan offers us today is the result of a traumatic and continuous temporal dislocation that began when the Japanese, emerging from a very long period of profound cultural isolation in the 1860s, sent a group of brilliant young nobles in England. These young men returned bringing news of an alien technological culture that they must have found as wondrous, as baffling, as we today might consider the Gundam’s space engineering products. These modern kids somehow made the nation of Japan swallow the industrial revolution whole. The resulting spasms were violent, painful, and probably inconceivably disorienting. The Japanese bought the whole set of options: the clock, steam railways, telegraphs, weapon systems, clothing, Western medical advances. They absorbed it all and kept their foot down, reborn as Asia’s first industrialized nation. Which drove them, not many decades later, into an expansionist empire-building mode, a desire that eventually evaporated two of their cities, wiped out by an enemy wielding technology that might as well have come from a galaxy distant. And then that enemy, their conquerors, the Americans, showed up in person, smiling, intent on a surprisingly ambitious program of cultural reengineering. The Americans, bent on restructuring the national psyche from the roots up, inadvertently sent the Japanese down several clicks down the timeline. The result of this tremendous triple whammy (catastrophic industrialization, war, American occupation) is Japan that still delights, disturbs and fascinates us today: a mirror world, an alien planet with which we can actually do business, a cultural example. Has it always been like this?
In 1977 Japanese jazz was looking for its own way, its own vision of jazz and improvisation. This double CD is a complete version of the Tee & Company trilogy, including ‘Sonnet’, ‘Dragon Garden’ and ‘Spanish Flower’.
I think this group, Tee & Company, can be considered as a good example of the 70’s Japanese jazz scene. It was an eight-piece combo organized in 1977 by Tee Fujii, owner of the independent record label Three Blind Mice, created precisely to promote Japanese jazz. The basic idea was to collect the best that Japan could offer, but without creating a V.S.O.P. (Very Special One-night Performance). The goal was to showcase the jazz of the time to a mainstream audience, involving eight musicians who had all explored free jazz. “Jojo” Takayanagi and “Kin-san” Kanai took over the musical direction of the band, they had both been part of Japan’s jazz revolution since the late 1950s and had always played radical music. Masaru Imada was one of TBM’s top recording engineers and an excellent pianist, with years of experience alongside Jojo and Kin-san. Kenji Mori was a saxophonist, clarinetist and flautist who played an important role in free jazz and hard bop. Takao Uematsu, making his recording debut on TBM, is a leading exponent of the Coltrane school of jazz. Nobuyoshi Ino, double bass player, appeared at the Moers Jazz Festival in 1980, together with Jojo and Mori Hiroshi. Murakami had already made a name for himself when he was part of the Masabumi Kikuchi ‘Band. Yuji Imamura was percussionist No. 1 in Japan. All of the band members, except Ino and Murakami, were already band leaders when Tee & Company was formed. It is difficult to identify precisely the character of a band of improvisers, especially in the context of free jazz. The internal dichotomies of the music are often not discrete, and in this case, it becomes difficult to classify the improvisational approaches in a clear way, thanks to the presence or absence of specific idioms. In Tee & Company collective improvisation emerges as a field of enormous variability and expressive possibilities, almost impossible to grasp with a single analytical gaze. What seems most evident to me is, however, the excellent harmony achieved by the musicians, for being a band that hasn’t subsequently produced other records, the loor interplay was truly excellent. I believe that the rehearsals done months before the recordings were fundamental, a tool to acquire practice and familiarity with an idea, a scheme, a model, a score, a theme, a sound material, a relational modality. I think we have here another-directed improvisation, a set of instantaneous musical production practices in which there is a form of external direction that conditions and controls its development, influencing its structuring, process and final narrative result, guided by Takayanagi and Kanai themselves. In Tee & Company training and creation have effectively combined together, creating a totally integrated expressive process. Finally, what emerges is an idea of collective improvisation as a metaphor for “meeting” between individuals, distant from the more traditional modalities of jazz, capable of constantly surprising with its unpredictability and ability to involve the performers in a real collective expression devoted to welcoming, transmitting and spontaneously sharing music-making.
In the booklet that accompanies the CDs it was written: “We want to perform music that is joyful and full of life, with intellectual arrangements and powerful improvisations.”. They succeeded very well. So they distributed the future.