These are reviews of Kaoru Abe and Masayuki Takanagi records copied from Opprobrium magazine - I'm just saving them here since they are a great source of info and original pages seem to be missing:

KAORU ABE TRIO Shinjuku 1970.3.15 CD; KAORU ABE/HIROSHI YAMAZAKI DUO Jazz Bed CD; KAORU ABE Solo 1972.4.11 CD [all PSF] Abe's recorded career spans '70-'78, and Jazz Bed is from '71, so these three PSF issues of previously unrealeased material all sit at the beginning of it. How these tapes measure up as part of the unabridged version I can't say, but in the footnotes last issue, as you may have seen, Alan Cummings reckoned this to be Abe "at his best" [Opprobrium #3, p.69].
Crudely generalising a contrast in free jazz tendencies between AMM/SME/MIC/FMP and AACM/ESP, it's hard to say if Abe's closer to the gentle, bearded intellectualism of some European improvisation, or to the gutsier funk of more US freedom fighters. Up there with the best of both Western sides of the sea, but unlike any one from either, his stroppy, razor-sharpening alto style mixes tousled emotionalism with dogged puzzling, like - okay, I'll try - an amalgam of Anthony Braxton and a sadder, angrier Albert Ayler. Emblematically, perhaps, his discography reveals that he later recorded, with Baroque mathematical intent, a "well tempered alto saxophone suite" (Partitas 2LP, Trio Nadja, 1973) that was published, with Romantic temperamentality, "unfinished". His volatile yet determined playing uses the threat of technical collapse as a frequent motive for change while sustained momentum and emphatic concentration are reflected in the quarter-/half-hour average span to these pieces. The trio recording, the earliest item in his CD discography, represents an unusual setting for him, given that eighteen of his twenty-six recorded appearances are solo. Standing several steps in front of a Taylor-ish piano and some fantastically wide and crunchy drumming he sits on simple enough intervals, up and down, up and down, but notes' corners crumble, as the raw force bends burrs and slurs them, twisting and shoving them with I-want-this-to-go-louder-hit-harder will, so that microtonal space is there in the shavings and curls that are ground from the conventional tunings. Oiled by piano splash, a quick lyrical passage will flurry forth as he finds a way for the notes to fit into the groove he's forcing them against. The solo disc, the middle of three released by PSF from '72, sounds more fluent, even serene, but is densely worked and race-myself rapid. Typically, in the last and longest of the three pieces on it, he walks up to the sandy ridge of coherent tone, reaching overblowing shriek and keeps going, treading air. All these recordings are made exciting by this flat-out driven quality, but in Duo the drum lap and stutter - rallentando/accelerando snare rolls that slow, swell and slow - help to spread out as well as push Abe's flow, and make its two long takes my favourites from amongst these. -Jon

KAORU ABE Acacia No Ame Ga Yamu Toki CD [Tokuma] Late great alto screamer Kaoru Abe is the lost wild legend of '70s Japanese free jazz. In the short space of his tempestuous life, he burnt a path which has served as a map for a whole generation of Japanese artists to follow who would call themselves 'free' in any sense of the word whatsoever. Though he performed live frequently in his day, his releases were sporadic, many of them emerging after his untimely death in 1978, and on a string of Japanese labels not exactly renowned for their overseas distribution. In the last few years of this decade, however, Abe's unheralded legacy has been documented pleasingly thoroughly, with five CDs of previously unreleased live material (from the 1970-1972 period) emerging on PSF, and now also available are three more CDs - Acacia No Ame Ga Yamu Toki (After The Acacia Rain), Kurai Nichiyobi (Sombre Dimanche), and Kaze Ni Fukarete (Blowing In The Wind) - of hitherto unavailable live material (taken from performances in a tour of universities and coffee shops in late 1971) released on Japanese major label Tokuma (who have also recently released a number of Keiji Haino and Fushitsusha albums) earlier this year, as well as reissues of three of Abe's career albums - duos with Motoharu Yoshizawa and Sabo Toyozumi, and his 2LP masterwork, Mort A Credit - rereleased by Japanese major Kojima late last year. All of which makes for a lot of Abe to catch up with, but the deluge of reissues, taken with his actual album releases, add up to a body of work that for passion, inensity, mastery of instrument and use of the 'jazz' idiom, rival that of anyone playing free jazz anywhere else at the time. These releases are nothing short of revelatory in their re-establishment and preservation for future ears of crucial and otherwise totally lost musical history.
Abe was born in 1949 in Kawasaki. He left school aged 17, and moved to Shinjuku, a city which then, as now, seems to have been something of a centre for the counter culture and a welcome environment for the kind of music he would go on to play. He taught himself to play alto sax, and learned the apposite theory of his own accord. He made his debut aged 19, but ws not really to impact on the scene for a few years yet. His playing was heavily grounded in the hours he spent practising alone; most of his recordings and performances were solo (it has been speculated that this was because of his tendency to literally play over the top of potential collaborators), and show him to be, in a way, a quite 'selfish' player. The normal pattern for Japanese jazz musicians was to study with their elders, practise regularly with fellow musicians, and eventually make their professional debut. From the very beginning, Abe flouted the rules. He took to practising for hours at a time on the hard-shoulder of the Tokyo-Yokohama Expressway near his home, much to the consternation of passing motorists. (One story has it that when Abe held a solo session of the banks of a nearby river one freezing cold mid-winter's day, an old boatman took mistook him for an escaped mental patient and called the police!)
Fittingly, Abe's first release was a duo with fellow jazz heretic, guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi. The two are often cited in tandem as key inspirations, and certainly, Takayanagi was a figure who would come to be seen as similarly troubled. Like Abe, Takayanagi went on to carve himself a massive notch in the wall of missing culture. In his prime, whether solo or with his New Direction Unit (also known at various points as New Directions and New Direction For The Arts), he operated at a level miles beyond that of Sonny Sharrock, the only relatively comparable figure, and Takayanagi's recordings from that decade period stand alone as examples of what is possible when the technique and skill of improvisation, the energy and dissonance of free jazz, and the volume and aggression of rock music meet at one point. His influence can clearly be detected in modern-day heavyweights such as Rudolph Grey and Ascension's Stefan Jaworzyn. Unfortunately, Takayanagi was also possessed of an extremely acid tongue, and managed to get himself completely offside with the jazz establishment in a fairly short space of time, going on to live an enforcedly marginal musical existence. A great Takayanagi anecdote has been related via Henry Kaiser who, on one of his early visits to Japan, was asked in an interview who his main inspirations were. He immediately cited Takayanagi, and the interviewer was so horrified that he changed it in print to Wynton Marsalis.
Though never doubted for his musical abilities, Abe was in person apparently quite difficult to deal with bordering on unbearable, and greatly tended to rub people up the wrong way. Not helping matters was his obsessive and destructive relationship with his wife, writer Suzuki Ikumi. A film, Endless Waltz, was released a few years ago, chronicling their troubled union (it also featured many of Abe's associates reminiscing fondly about what an asshole he was). [I'm told there is also a nicely-produced and illuminating book on Abe now available in Japan.] The film depicts one of their more violent arguments, with both completely drunk & drugged, where Ikumi cuts off one of her toes to prove that she loves him. Abe's life was punctuated with and curtailed by imprudent (ab)use of alcohol and drugs. Never the most robust physical specimen to begin with, he died in September 1978 of a drug overdose. It's not known whether his death was an accident or suicide.
As mentioned above, Abe's discography begins with his duo with Takayanagi, entitled Kaitaiteki Kokan (Deconstructed Exchange), the very same one picked by Arto Lindsay as a Frith/Zorn duo in a recent Wire jukebox test. Concrete details on it are as scarce as the album is rare - a copy of it showed up in PSF shop Modern Music earlier this year going for the equivalent of £2,000. It was recorded in late June 1970, and hence is predated by the PSF Abe Trio Shinjuku March 1970 CD as the earliest recordings of Abe. Abe reportedly seriously announced himself on the scene with a particularly blazing performance in Shinjuku in October 1970, which was attended by many big names. And although he seemed to play out quite consistently, Abe had little to show for it during his lifetime, most of his releases coming out posthumously. This is where the PSF releases - the aforementioned 1970 trio, a 1971 duo with Hiroshi Yamazaki (who went on to play drums in the classic 1975 quartet lineup of Takayanagi's New Direction Unit, which recorded the Axis I and II albums, as well as Shinshoku, and the material on the April Is The Cruellest Month CD), and three solo dates from 1972 (January, April and July) - are so valuable, as are the Tokuma titles, which document a tour Abe conducted of universities (always supportive venues and environments for the music) in late 1971.
After the Takayanagi duo Abe's next release would be the edition-of-500, excruciatingly rare collector's item Winter 1972 album (upon which much of his fame/infamy would come to be based), but it didn't come out until 1974, leaving a major chronological hole, which has now happily been almost completely filled. It should, however, be noted that Abe played in a quintet which contributed a track to a compilation 2LP called Genya, issued in 1973 (the compilation also contained a track by Haino's first band, Lost Aarraff). The quintet in question also included Mototeru Takagi on tenor, who had by this time already played on one of the great lost and begging to be reissued classics of the early Japanese free scene, the Masahiko Togashi Quartet's We Now Create LP, recorded in 1969 and featuring Takayanagi and Motoharu Yoshizawa. (Incidentally, apart from the Togashi Quartet, Takagi also played in a couple more free groups in the period - Takayanagi's New Directions - check him out on the pummelling Call In Question on PSF - and, crucially, the Motoharu Yoshizawa Trio [along with drummer Sabu Toyozumi - see below], who have never had anything released, ever, the only documentation being a recording of the trio minus Toyozumi on Yoshizawa's Deep Sea CD on PSF.) A 2LP worth of 1973 solo Abe material, Partitas, was released in 1981 on the Trio Nadja label, and has also been recently reissued on 2CD by the Japanese Disk Union label.
The PSF and Tokuma titles are also so valuable because they comprehensively document what have come to be recognised as the essential characteristics of Abe's playing. Totally in love with the saxophone's ability to, in the right hands, project a pure velocity of sound, Abe was the original speed freak. He was once quoted as saying, "I want to be faster than anyone. Faster than the cold, faster than man, the earth, Andromeda." His playing is relentlessly typified by an impatience and restlessness, rendered through extremely rapid phrasing, sometimes deliberately rough fingering, regular overblowing, and marathon fast-paced, breathless improvisational ventures out. His grasp of technique and manipulation of startling dissonance puts him on a par with Anthony Braxton. though Abe's playing impassioned, spirited playing originates in the exact polar opposite source of Braxton's cool detachedness and rigid conceptualism. The other appropriate yardstick is Albert Ayler, and Ayler's alto counterpart, Charles Tyler. Though Abe specialised in alto (his other main instrument of choice was the bass clarinet, and he also included employed alto clarinet, sopranino, harmonica, guitar and piano at different times), his long blowout journeys reveal an Ayler-like sense of stamina and a waywardly explicit core emotional catharsis of the kind that Ayler specialised in. The comparison seems especially apt in relation to the Tokuma titles, as at this point Abe's live repertoire consisted at least in part of 'treatment' of various popular ballads, allowing him to state the theme and then rip it to shreds in a most Ayler-like fashion.
The Tokuma titles should be taken in chronological order, the first being Acacia No Ame Ga Yamu Toki, which compiles material from a duo Abe performed with drummer Yasukazu Sato on October 31, 1971 at Tohoku University. Sato - today apparently to be found playing in much less auspicious settings - matches Abe step for step through three 20-minute pieces, keeping his scene-stealing tendencies firmly in check. Most informational here is the first, a pensive reinterpretation of ballad of the day 'After The Acacia Rain', with Abe thoughtfully and introspectively intoning on bass clarinet, and Sato filling the air, creating and establishing a taut tension between all-out thrash/crash barrage anmd more sombre atmospherics, a tension which memorably characterises this recording. The piece remains controlled in pace, hovering between expansive, colouristic strokes from both players and a more aggressive, thunderous duo style. The playoff between the two forces is palpable. During the course of the remaining two pieces - 'Lover Come Back To Me' (which may have also been a popular ballad of the time) and a reworking of Kurai Nichiyobi's 'Sombre Dimanche' [see below] entitled 'Chimchimcheree - Dark Sunday' (Abe on alto for both) - the pair gradually give themselves over to the kind of free-for-two which in the early 1970s was pretty much written into the format, to a point of speedy intensity which predates and matches other more famous sax/drums duos recorded around the time or shortly thereafter, eg. Frank Lowe/Rashied Ali Exchange, Frank Wright/Muhammad Ali Adieu, You Little Man. (It's worth noting that for a (mercifully) brief period during 'Dark Sunday', Abe plays some harmonica, one instrument I don't think any jazz musician could ever play and not sound stupid; Abe also employed it on) If you lived in Japan and happened to buy all three Tokuma titles in sharp time after their issue (or at least know someone who did), you would have been rewarded with a bonus 3" CD freebie (a marketing device apparently regularly employed by Japanese major labels) containing extra material from this date, specifically a second, more blastingly energetic run-through of 'Lover Come Back To Me'. The very tip of a historical iceberg into which one can only hope several fleets of ships will soon crash. -Nick

KAORU ABE Kurai Nichiyobi CD [Tokuma] Kurai Nichiyobi (Sombre Dimanche or Dark Sunday) collects material from two shows, the first on December 4 (1971) at the Akita University Festival, the other two days later at a jazz coffee shop. From the earlier is drawn one track, a sensational version of 'After The Acacia Rain'. A radically different to that on Acacia No Ame Ga Yamu Toki (performed only five weeks earlier), this is classic Abe. He pays scant regard to the original, contemptuously intoning its basic tune before proceeding to completely tear it to shit. The one track which illustrates Abe at a massive early career peak, it's an unbelievably frenetic, jumpy, and deliberately rough-around-the-edges performance, and also the one on which an Ayler influence is easily detectable (not just because of its audible 'Ghosts' rip) - an almost comically brassy reference to the original, followed by a vicious, breakneck flight into the ether, with 'Sombre Dimanche' later given the same kind of treatment. It's followed by an equally impressive alto improvisation ('Alto Saxophone Solo Improvisation') which, though not as heart-shakingly intense, demonstrates more technical strings to Abe's bow. Sort of a demonstration of technique, it amplifies at length a series of his favourite tricks with the instrument: short, brutally blown tones, abruptly gushed out one on top of another in a staircase of sound, and periods of overblowing so harsh as to resemble a form of electronic distortion, speedily juxtaposed with playful melodic cadences. Here Abe is all over the saxophone's range, leaping from one end of the spectrum to the other with astonishing skill and dazzling pace. Also included is a bass clarinet improvisation, which further argues the point made by the PSF CDs - that Abe's work on the bass clarinet is fundamentally different to his work on the alto saxophone, beyond any blandly obvious contrast in basic sound between the two instruments. Though certainly not afraid to abuse the bass clarinet in his typically frantic manner, Abe was seemingly enamoured of the muted, sombre palette it could project. Hearing a piece as restrained comes as a relief shock after the two preceding alto screams, and no doubt it provided some relief for those who witnessed the performance. It's fairly typical of Abe's bass clarinet excursions :cautious tinkering with pretty, melodic note structures interspersed with tones drawn out and slowly faded - though this is hardly 'soundscaping'. -Nick

KAORU ABE Kaze Ni Fukarete CD [Tokuma] As historically illuminating as its two companion Tokuma titles, if a more problematic listen, Kaze Ni Fukarete (Blowing In The Wind) contains what one presumes is much of the remainder of the December 4 show at Akita University, one track from which ('After The Acacia Rain') of course appears on Kurai Nichiyobi. It starts with two solo alto improvs, one a cheeky run lasting less than a minute, the second a bit longer. Its eight or so minutes offer a teasingly brief glimpse at another side to Abe - he hints throughout in a tantalisingly sketchy way at a real stylistic departure, with well-paced periods of note enunciation, sprite tones and skilfully fleet streams. These brief interludes are gone just as suddenly as they are introduced, as Abe reverts to a more brute alto format in perverse fashion, improvising roughly on his archetypal theme before impatiently and abruptly concluding, leaving both ends of the track open, a recording as frustrating as it is revealing. More helpful is its successor, yet another version of 'After The Acacia Rain', this time played on bass clarinet. The three markedly different takes on the ballad presented by the Tokuma albums clearly demonstrate Abe's erratic relationship with the ballad, which seemed to change on a daily basis. This version serves as an amazing summation of his mixed feelings for this standard (and what it represented), a standard which, at this stage of his career, can plausibly be seen as his 'My Favourite Things'. Played literally within hours/minutes of the blatantly contrasting version on Kurai Nichiyobi, it here becomes an elongated catalogue of moods, beginning with the respectfully sombre, proceeding to gradual impatience and urgency, onto outright dislike and mockery, and all the way back again. It's remarkable for its yawning inter-note chasms - whereas Abe's typical alto style was to fill every available space as quickly as possible (and his bass clarinet style to fill space slowly), here he permits individual notes and sequential runs to soak up air and hang around in the balance before eventually following them up. In the ever-widening blank spaces of the more gaping sound-holes towards the end of the near 40-minute running time, it really sounds as though the piece will actually never end, and by its conclusion, Abe has stretched the sounds further apart than any other recording from this stage of his career, and has also presaged the playing style that he would later in his lfe come to adopt. Revelling as ever in the bass clarinet's natural full-bodied melodic potential, Abe intersperses passages of ruptural dissonance with increasing frequency and abrupt juxtaposition, all the while maintaining what come to be the piece's characteristic pauses, establishing a tug-of-war/discourse between the two forces which, 25 years on, plays like an analysis of his creative and technical methods. An astonishing recording, which places all Abe's other playing on the instrument in another light. It's followed by a medley of Robert Dylan's 'Blowing In The Wind' and the Japanese standard 'Hanayome Ningyo' ('Bride Doll') of annoyingly murky recording quality and short duration which nonetheless elaborates, however briefly, on its predecessor's suggestions, emphasising that the Tokuma titles ask as many questions as they answer. Attempting to reinstate lost history, by showing Abe to be a player of diversely broad style, method and technique by only just scratching the surface, they implicitly acknowledge that there exists much more that deserves to be unearthed just as much but which probably never will, writing large an emboldened ellipsis which, for those who choose to hear, reverberates with deafening loudness. -Nick

KAORU ABE Mort À Credit 2CD [Kojima] After the Partitas double album (recorded 1973, released 1981), Mort À Credit was to become the last Abe album to be released in his lifetime. For the record, his discography runs like this: the trio on PSF, the duo with Takayanagi, the duo with Yamazaki on PSF, the three Tokuma titles, the three PSF solo titles, the Winter 1972 bootleg (recorded 1972, released 1974), Partitas (also reissued on CD by Japanese label Disk Union in 1991), then Mort À Credit, followed by Nord with Yoshizawa, guest spots on Milford Graves's Meditation Among Us, in a quartet which included Mototeru Takagi and Toshinori Kondo (recorded/released in 1977, reissued on CD by Disk Union in 1992), and on Derek Bailey's Duo And Trio Improvisation (recorded/released in 1978, same reissue details as the Graves), and then the posthumous releases: the Overhang Party duo with Toyozumi (Kojima 2LP, 1979), the Studio Session 1976.3.12 CD (Vivid Sound Corporation, 1992 - Abe solo on alto, piano and harmonica), ten (!) CDs' worth of Solo Live At Gaya (DIW, 1991 - recordings from September 30 1977 to August 19 1978), and the Last Date 1978.8.28 (Disk Union, 1989).
Mort À Credit was the title given to Céline's novel Death On The Installment Plan in its French translation, not a coincidence and an analogy that makes at least a little bit of sense - Abe was reportedly a major Céline fan, and his solo disks on PSF have Japanese translations of Céline text attached to the songtitles in the CD inserts. It consists of two alto improvs from a show on October 18, 1975, and five more (three on alto, two on sopranino) from another performance a couple of days earlier. Released by Kojima on 2LP in 1976 (the reissue does not appear to contain any unreleased material), it can be said to mark a significant change in Abe's style. I reserve full judgement until I (n)ever get to hear Winter 1972, but by now it seems that Abe had lost a little of his urgency - this can perhaps be in part attributed to the passage of time - and become more interested in spacing and the exact rhythms of phrasing. While never entirely ignorant of these concerns, by now they had come very much to the fore, as is illustrated by the two recordings from the earlier show here, in which roughly cut-off notes are spaced so regularly that their rhythms are like watching a slowed-down strobelight. With run after run of harsh, crude and almost bawdy staccato honking, Abe speedily races through the octaves in ascending and descending anti-order cadence. He breaks regularly into very shrill squeaks and squeals (and the occasional bold wail-melody) and references non-existent simplistic and just about jokey tunes. The eventuall effect is like having someone tapdance on stilletoes on your temple. The recording of these two tracks, mastered for CD reissue directly and audibly from the vinyl, both suffers and benefits from either ill-considered microphone placement or unpredictable stage movement on the part of Abe - some passages are about 50% clearer than others, and at more than one point the fidelity swings sharply, moving from distant, muffled high-pitch screeching tones to furoious forehead-centre blowing gusts in virtual machine-gun arc.
Of the three alto tracks from the October 16 performance, the first is the most impressive. Again beginning with twisting, dancing note clusters that somersault forth from the speakers, Abe soon moves into the increasingly familiar technique of aching, wrenching bursts of heavy shrieking alto, separated by stopwatched periods of silence. Dwelling almost exclusively in the upper register, Abe sets upon the sounds lying within a limited tonal range and squeezes hard, eking an incredibly broad range of textures from an ostensibly small palette. He continues to work thus in the following two pieces, nodding throughout to the temperately expressionistic style he would employ so effectively on the Nord duo with Yoshizawa, and further impressing the change that had by now come about in his playing. Though at this point still slightly unfocused in parts, these recordings offer a significant development of his earlier playing that's simultaneously evolved and honed down/devolved, and are crucial from a historical perspective, showing Abe to be almost out on his own at this point (and also helping to contextualise the efforts of present-day practitioners like Masayoshi Urabe and Tamio Shiraishi). The two sopranino cuts hint at more history to be dug up, like Abe's pieces on bass clarinet showing him to adapt to the instrument rather than forcing the instrument to adapt to him. The first in particular (though at the time of the show possibly intended as introductory in nature) sends lovely, moving and sustained melodies flowering forth, one after another; the second ups the pace, with Abe improvising in light, feathery strokes - a painfully abbreviated look at another potential big gun in Ane's arsenal, the only other available glimpse being the Graves record, and who knows how often Abe actually employed the instrument in the live setting.
Mort À Credit shows Abe in a fascinating period of transition, moving forth to something complexly and identifiably new, yet intransigently rooted in what had come bfore. Opprobrium's friend in Japan Alan Cummings (the source for approx. 100% of the concrete factual information herein divulged) reports that the general consensus in circles there within which Abe's work is known and appreciated is that he was at his best ca. 1970-1973/74, a view I don't think I could ever really significantly disagree with. But for me the period summarised by Mort À Credit is also highly salient. While his earlier recordings focused on energy and an almost self-conscious encompassing of the saxophone's entire range and sonic potential (like some deliberately comprehensive inventory of Sounds You Can Make With An Alto), the material here shows Abe audaciously experimenting with a smaller range of sounds - those inherent in the instrument's upper limits - and pushing them further, narrowing his scope and coming up with improvisations which, in what they attempt to achieve, are arguably even further 'out'. -Nick

KAORU ABE/MOTOHARU YOSHIZAWA DUO 1975 Nord CD [Kojima] Abe's duo with legendary free bassist Motoharu Yoshizawa, Nord, stands as a critical summit between two of the major forces in Japanese jazz at the time. Recorded in December 1975 and released in 1981 by Kojima, it reveals a different side to Abe. The two had apparently been playing together since the late '60s - Yoshizawa had, for various reasons (many of which are discussed in the Cummings-translated G*Modern interview with Yoshizawa contained in issue 3 of Christopher Rice's Halana magazine [December 1997]), and it's probably due to Yoshizawa's undeniable heavyweight status that this dialogue is conducted largely on his terms, with Abe toning down his wildly over-the-top style and curbing his natural excesses. Yoshizawa's clever and subtle playing underwrites proceedings; the two conduct three numbered untitled 'Duo Improvisation's filled with wide open spaces, passages of complete silence, and generally delightful and highly skilful matches of catch-as-catch-can. For his part Abe (on alto throughout) concentrates on flurries of varying lengths in the upper reaches, his quicksilver gestures and decorative trills dancing, circling and flying away. Yoshizawa (on bass for two of the pieces and shivery cello for the third) engages in typically nimble fingering and dextrous wrist-flicks, penning the beginnings of sentences for Abe to pounce on and finish in his own words, changing their meaning and warping their logic. Loaded with unextravagant aerial cartwheels, on-a-pin turns and understated acrobatics, Nord displays an empathy between its two creators which, given the personalities involved, is quite remarkable. A fascinating and sadly one-off recording, documenting at an important point in time the meeting of the two extremes of the form - the cerebral, intelligent playing of Yoshizawa, the veritable grandfather of the free scene, and the raw, aggressive style of the notorious upstart Abe. That the former tends to prescribe illustrates his indomitability, but also points to a suppleness and adaptibility in Abe's playing, characteristics with which it is not usually credited. (That said, he is unable to hold back for the entirety of the recording, and does let fly with several volume blasts which all but drown out his partner, and seem in context a little gratuitous.) Special mention must be made of the wonderfully clean and acoustic recording quality, which falls exactly on the right side of glossily over done - at its most crisp (the first track esp.), Abe's note-streams can, at their conclusion, clearly be heard to echo and fade away, so that one passage seems to actually chase the previous in some dizzying air train. Yoshizawa's string-tweaks also echo audibly, rubber-band style, making him sound as though he is duetting with himself. The perfect stereo complement for an amazing duo which, in light of what was to come, would have far-reaching ramifications. -Nick

KAORU ABE/SABU TOYOZUMI DUO Overhang Party 2CD [Kojima] Disappointing to think that Abe inevitably followed the pattern of dwindling passion which has since the beginning of time characterised the progress of and kind of human effort or endeavour, creative or otherwise. Those looking for the burning early intensity here will find that the flame has all but gone out. While Overhang Party's two alto & alto clarinet tracks are worthwhile listening by any reasonable standard and comparable to Abe's playing ca. late 1975, they lack the freshness and singlemindedness he then displayed, and are the work of a man seemingly struggling with his muse. Fortunately his partner keeps things always moving forwards with a constant banter, and the two maintain an irregular, stuttering dialogue throughout the album's 90-minute duration.
Taken from two dates on August 5 and 13, 1978, Overhang Party (I have no clues of the significance of the odd title, or how it may relate, if at all, to the contemporary Japanese psych band of the same name) pairs Abe with drummer and longstanding improv stalwart Sabu Toyozumi, a longtime presence on the Japanese free scene, who played in the Yoshizawa Trio and probably many others settings beside; he can more recently be heard in a trio with Haino and Barre Phillips on the Two Strings Will Do It CD on PSF. Abe died on September 9 (though his very last recordings can be found on the Last Date CD on DIW), and when Overhang Party came out - after his death, obviously - it bore the subtitle "A Memorial To Kaoru Abe". Aside from the two tracks mentioned above, there are three more duos showcasing Abe on a range of instruments - guitar, piano and marimba, with Toyozumi on drums throughout - which it's certainly interesting to hear him play, but which give the album as a whole a bitsy and incoherent feel. On guitar (acoustic), Abe sounds like an almost flamenco-influenced Bailey, but with regular lapses into dead-end blunder that certainly won't have given Derek the shakes. He's not a lot better on piano, and the marimba track is not easy listening. Compounding all this is Abe's apparent unwillingnes to musically acknowledge his partner's presence for lengthy periods, by either trailing off altogether for up to a minute at a time, or exclusively concerning himself with some popularly undetectable internal improv agenda. Toyozumi does his best and admirably well to keep the conversation alive, but is not helped by Abe's recalcitrance. 80% of the way through, right when you think it's all crashing down to shit, Abe switches back to alto for a blazing finale that's well worth hanging around for.
A typically perverse finale to an existence marked by loose ends, frayings and inconsistencies. Something of a sour note to end on, but whatever its taste, it comes not even close to detracting from what must be one of the more incredible lives in the history of free jazz. One can only hope that the PSF, Tokuma and Kojima titles will prompt a broader reinvestigation of the life and music of Kaoru Abe, and the context in which his music was played and his life lived, a context which is one of the most enthrallingly creative music 'scenes' of the post-war world, easily one a par with comparable and infinitely more revered scenes in New York, Chicago, Berlin, and London, but in comparison completely submerged and largely undocumented by an oblivious media. I rank Abe with Jimmy Lyons, Ornette Coleman, and any other worshipped alto master you can name, and these discs rescue and preserve the lost and bewildering heritage of Abe, one of the most singular, brilliant and unconstrained spitits of that or any other decade. Take a good listen and try to tell me you disagree. -Nick

MASAYUKI TAKAYANAGI/KAORU ABE Kaitaiteki kokan CD [DIW] Takayanagi's historically legendary duo with firebrand alto saxophonist Kaoru Abe, Kaitaiteki kokan (which roughly translates as Deconstructed Exchange) was recorded June 28 1970 and released in September of that year in a predictably minuscule edition, and has always been viewed as a major meeting between two of the most important figureheads of Japanese free music. It is perhaps the most heavily fetishised record ever to emerge from the Japanese underground. Needless to add, it is excruciatingly rare - copies don't often change hands in Tokyo these days, but when they do you can guarantee $USD four-figure sums are involved.
In early 1970 Abe had started to play in duos with three percussionists: Sabu Toyozumi, then the drummer in the first of Takayanagi's New Direction groupings, New Directions - remembering that the first incarnation of this creative cabal was called New Direction/New Directions, the second New Direction For The Arts, and the third the New Direction Unit; Hiroshi Yamazaki (who went on to replace Toyozumi as New Directions drummer - this duo was documented on a PSF CD), and with Mototeru Takagi, who played on the first New Direction Unit record. Abe played his first duo with Takayanagi on May 7th of that year, a gig which was billed as Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction (the flyer for the gig was apparently titled in English "New direction for all who are interested in jazz" and subtitled, in Japanese, "Projection toards the annihilation of jazz"!); the June 28th gig which was released as Kaitaiteki kokan was, confusingly, billed as New Direction, and aficionados of this kind of shit probably argue to this day whether Kaitaiteki kokan is more correctly labelled as a Takayanagi/New Direction(s) album or a Takayanagi/Abe duo. Regardless, DIW have opted for the latter. The two continued their association for a few more gigs under the Takayanagi New Direction banner, adding Yamazaki to the group; their last gig was in early October, after which point Takayanagi and Abe's association seems to have ended.
It's undoubtedly nice to see Kaitaiteki kokan reissued for our contemporary epoch, even if the reissue is limited, expensive, and on the lame and pathetic DIW label (whose profligate release schedule averages an ounce-of-gold to pound-of-shit ratio so unbelievably disproportionate as to make them the Leo of Japan), and even if the music the reissue contains will probably engender bathos on a global scale. It's more of a pitched battle than anything else, with the two never really gelling in any meaningful way: Takayanagi, on electric guitar, plays in a recognisably "jazz" style, amplifying and distorting genre motifs and signatures, and methodically pulling them apart with a spindly and harshly brittle feedback tone that's often grating to listen to; Abe just wails away regardless, full of bluster and seemingly paying little attention to his partner whatsoever, behaviour not entirely untypical of him at this point in his career. Improvisationally speaking it's well below average - the two for the most part sound as if they're playing at the same time but not together, and moments of decent interplay over the two side-long pieces' (both clocking in at a bit under 30 minutes) duration are few and far between.
Proceedings are undeniably spiky and charged, but I don't consider this to be the big deal I'm sure many are hoping it will be. Things may have turned out differently if this summit had occurred in, say, 1975, when both players were (arguably) at their respective peaks: the year in which Abe recorded his Mort À Credit 2LP masterpiece, and Takayanagi most fully realised his intended amalgamation of noise guitar and free jazz with the New Direction Unit. Their three finest albums - Axis: Another Revolvable Thing Part I and Part II, and Shinshoku (Eclipse) - (all of which are more deserving of reissue than either Free Form Suite or Kaitaiteki kokan) all date from '75, and one can only guess as to what a Takayanagi/Abe duo recorded them might sound like today. In the meantime we can only hope that more material from the Takayanagi archives continues to leak out - much of his finest work (including some 1970 live recordings with Abe that were rumoured for release on PSF a while back) is still yet to reach even a fraction of the audience it deserves. -Nick Cain
[DIW 2-3 Kanda Awajicho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0063, Japan]

MASAYUKI TAKAYANAGI/KAORU ABE Mass Projection CD [DIW] In a touchingly blatant attempt to make the above review look stupid, DIW have gone ahead and released the recordings mentioned in it - previously unissued material dating from a July 1970 gig which sounds as full-bore heavy and straight-up phenomenal as one could hope - as Mass Projection. This was originally going to come out on PSF, but DIW naughtily intervened - after the deal with PSF had been agreed - with a significantly larger offer to secure the release. Mass Projection - the title a reference to Takayanagi's philosophy of improvisation - is sufficiently harsh that it could, with the benefit of hindsight, be regarded as a kind of proto-snuff jazz, in that its only real point of comparison is the wall-flattening roar that Borbetomagus would begin conjuring up 10 years later. The two pieces here - 29 and 24 minutes long respectively, I'm told they were the first and third pieces from the gig in question - see Takayanagi and Abe levelling breathtakingly intense ear-shredding salvoes at each other. Takayanagi is simply sensational, extracting vicious, razor-edge feedback skrees from his guitar which slice gaping holes in the air; Abe, as one would expect, rises to the challenge, meeting Takayanagi head-on, and going all-out to match him blast for blast. Neither lets up an inch (though there is a brief period of respite about 17 minutes into the second track) and, unlike Kaitaiteki kokan, a real musical synthesis is achieved: feedback and noise deployed with musical intelligence and skill and deep reserves of energy to create an intimidatingly dense and textured roaring din, which at this point on the historical timeline was pretty much unprecedented. One of those uncategorisable archival releases that's not a "new" album and not a reissue, Mass Projection is thrilling, sensational, a revelation - this could well be some of the heaviest music we've yet heard from either player. A second volume of supposedly less intense material (the second piece from the same gig), entitled Gradually Projection, has already followed, and if it's anything like as great as this, I'd advise you to commence investigation post haste. This is easily 2001's most notable release to date. -Nick Cain
[DIW 2-3 Kanda Awajicho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0063, Japan]

MASAYUKI TAKAYANAGI/NEW DIRECTION FOR THE ARTS Free Form Suite CD [Three Blind Mice] Recorded in 1972 and originally released on the Three Blind Mice label, Free Form Suite is the only record released under the Takayanagi/New Direction For The Arts moniker and features the fine lineup of future New Direction Unit regulars Kenji Mori on reeds and Hiroshi Yamazaki on drums, with Joe Mizuki - who would, with the formation of the New Direction Unit in 1975, be replaced on drums by Hiroshi Yamazaki. However, much of the material is fairly poor, and more than half the album can be forgotten virtually out of hand. The first two tracks in particular are depressingly idiomatic and limpid genre exercises: a drearily pedestrian blues "number" ('The Blues') and 'You Don't Know What Love Is', a lengthy showcase for some incredibly dull flute "blowing", both of which plod along in a distinctly half-assed trad-suck manner. Things brighten up significantly with 'Sun In The East', Mori fanning Coltrane-esque soprano over a quasi-exotic late '60s P Sanders-y flight of fancy, all tropical melody and rollicking momentum. Leaving only the three movements of the title track; sadly the first, again, sucks: twiddly nowhere-bound acoustic fiddliness, displaying none of the lateral tension-control interplay of the NDU at their best; second is slightly better, with Takayanagi picking up his guitar, plugging it into an amplifier, and actually playing it; the third is, finally, the quartet noise-blast the whole record's been leading up to, with the two percussionists kicking in to impressively intense effect. Overall another piece in the Takayanagi riddle for sure, but not really one of the more desirable items in his discography. Packaging - booklet bound inside a jewel box-sized hardback book - is nice, but has the trickle-down effect of making it even more outrageously expensive than your average outrageously expensive Japanese import - I've seen this retailing in London stores for as much as £32. For a disc that's 40% approvable (at best)? It is very much your call. -Nick Cain
[Three Blind Mice 132-11 Takenomaru, Naka-ku, Yokohama 231-0847, Japan;]

MASAYUKI TAKAYANAGI/NEW DIRECTION UNIT Live At Moers Festival 1980 CD; MASAYUKI TAKAYANAGI Ginparis Session CD [both Three Blind Mice] Live At Moers Festival 1980 is the fourth - after Axis: Another Revolvable Thing Part I and Part II, the Shinshoku LP [Iskra] label (for the purposes of the exercise, I'm not not counting the two PSF retrospective CDs and the April Is The Cruellest Month CD [April Disk]) - and last ever New Direction Unit album. Recorded May 26 1980 at, yes, the Moers Jazz Festival, it was originally released on vinyl by Three Blind Mice (as with their reissue of Free From Suite, the label couldn't find any extra material) and it features the standard NDU lineup - Kenji Mori (reeds, flute, shinobue), Nobuyoshi Ino (cello), and Hiroshi Yamazaki (percussion) - swollen to a quintet with the addition of with Akira Iijima on second electric guitar. They perform three Takayanagi compositions and Takayanagi also plays a straight guitar reindition of Lee Konitz's 'Subconscious Lee'. 'Bohimei', is the highlight, a fine example of prime consensual tension intensity-era NDU, circling in marauding, slow-burning fashion for 14 brilliantly menacing minutes. It is garnished with tapes of a recitation of computer music composer Herbert Eimert's anti-nuclear piece 'Epitaph For Aikichi Kuboyama'; a tape of a speech by a radical South Korean poet/political prisoner runs throughout 'Resistance One', to distracting and annoying effect. The track itself is similar in construction to 'Bohimei' but is largely acoustic, with lots of flute, and hence not nearly as heavy. 'Mass Hysterism', as its title would imply, most certainly is, a 15-minute all-out group noise-flail. Mori is a bit dull throughout, but the two guitars interact well, Ino scratches away frantically, and the group work up a pummellingly scabrous blast.
Ginparis Session - unreleased material from pre-free straight jazz Tokyo sessions from June 1963 - is strictly for completists. Three Blind Mice released this at the same time as Live At Moers and, hoping for a bit of cash-in by association, had the gall to credit it as a Takayanagi release, even though he only plays on one of the tracks (a 17-minute version of 'Greensleeves') and none of the four tracks are his compositions. Otherwise there's a cover of Miles Davis's 'Nardis', and two other tedious pieces written by some of the session musos involved. Only point of interest is that Masahiko Togashi plays on three tracks, though you'd have to be a very devoted archivist to think his appearance in any way implies that you "need" to hear this. You most certainly don't. -Nick Cain
[Three Blind Mice 132-11 Takenomaru, Naka-ku, Yokohama 231-0847, Japan;]