Sunday, June 23, 2019

Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit - April is the Cruellest Month (Blank Forms, 2019)

This album has a fascinating history: Masayuki Takayanagi, who began his career as a straight ahead jazz guitarist in the 1950’s before turning to free jazz and then uncategorizable free improvisation in the 1960’s and 1970’s was contracted to record an album in 1975 by the infamous ESP-Disk label. But the label went bankrupt before releasing it, and it only saw the light as a Japan only release in 1991. This remastered version should finally get the attention it deserves, because it is a walloping album combining the freest jazz, nascent noise rock and excellent musicality into a thirty seven minute sucker punch. Takayanagi’s New Direction Unit featured Kengi Mori on alto saxophone, flute and bass clarinet, Nobuyoshi Inoon on bass and cello and Hiroshi Yamazaki on drums and percussion. Opening with “We Have Existed” with scraping cello and skittish percussion, adding flute and sheer breezes of guitar the group creates a strange and compelling landscape of sound. Scratching guitar and sawing cello develop a marked contrast to the soaring flute, as the drums roll between them. They create a fully formed performance from these elements, free but not too outre, with almost chamber like in some qualities. "What Have We Given" becomes louder with bass clarinet, thrashing percussion, bowed bass and guitar feedback. They weave in abstraction, crashing cymbals, clanging guitar, raising the volume and leaving Mori straining to be heard. Melding into a strong collective improvisation, wielding the volume like a tactile substance, before moving into the towering epic "My Friend, Blood Shaking My Heart." This is just simply stunning, the speed and power of the group is astonishing, and Takayanagi's guitar relinquishes all ties to any past alliances and absolutely shreds in a manner it's hard to imagine anyone save Sonny Sharrock or Pete Cosey were approaching in 1975. Mori moves to alto saxophone and tries to get a word in edgewise breaking through occasionally, but it's only Yamazaki's manic drumming that can keep pace with the onslaught. Their collective improvisation is a thing of savage, overwhelming beauty, performed at a speed and volume that must be heard to be believed. There is depth and texture within the noise, gradations of sound and granularity in the way that it pummels into you so relentlessly, leading to a stark beauty that only true freedom can provide. April Is the Cruellest Month -

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