Otomo Yoshihides New Jazz Ensemble:
Otomo Yoshihide (guitar and leader)
Sachiko M. (sine wave)
Charles Kenta Tsugami (alto saxophone)
Alfred Harth (tenor saxophone)
Kumiko Takara (vibraphone)
Hiroaki Mitzuani (bass)
Yasuhiro Yoshigaki (drums)
Kahimi Karie (vocals)
Maria Laurette Friis (guitar and vocals)
Henrik Sundh (keyboards)
Gunnar Halle (trumpet)
Kreston Osgood (drums)
Reviewed by: Josh Meggitt
Reviewed: 30 May, 2005
Venue: The Spitz, Old Spitalfields Market, London E1
As the bank holiday weekend drew to a close The Spitz filled with those keen for a last hurrah, Otomo Yoshihide bringing his New Jazz Ensemble for the final show of its European tour. Judging by the musicians’ beaming faces, visible camaraderie and the exuberance packed into the opening number, it must have been a successful trip.
From the onset Yoshihide’s Ensemble sizzled. Warmth, joy and intensity filled the room as tenor saxophonist Alfred Harth got things started, moving from rich, soulful bop hues to more obtuse, chiselled lines with alto saxophonist Charles Kenta Tsugami, eventually taking the whole troupe with him on a riotous ride. Fluid and mirthful, supreme playing throughout, this set the tone for what was to come, an effortless glide through genres and styles.
The New Jazz Ensemble is restless avant-gardist Otomo Yoshihide’s vehicle for exploring post-sixties’ jazz structure and material while giving him the opportunity to rock out on guitar, filling in the gaps left by his extremely minimal ‘onkyo’ work (for which he plays no-record turntables alongside Sachiko M. on no-memory sampler). This aesthetic has not been abandoned however as M. brings her sine waves to what is otherwise a straightforward jazz combo – close in shape and spirit to Eric Dolphy’s group on “Out To Lunch”. After the rollicking beginning, Yoshihide announced that “sometimes jazz needs a sine wave and we were given a fragile and beautiful showpiece for the instrument. Situated beside Kumiko Takara’s bowed vibraphone, a sumptuous drone was created sounding remarkably like a glass harmonica.
As mallets were introduced to the vibes, guitar, bass, brushed drums and eventually horns filled out a sweet ballad masking a layer of portent evocative of Angelo Badalamenti. A rousing version of Dolphy’s “Hat and Beard” followed – saxophones skronked, skins were beaten, bass strings twisted before giving way to energised solos from all players. Yoshihide melted the stage as his guitar screamed, wrenching such grit and fuzz from his instrument that Sonny Sharrock would have blushed. Shifting gears completely, drummer Yasuhiro Yoshigaki thrashed out a breakneck punk-rock rhythm behind the leader’s wailing. Further stylistic twists included a smooth post-rock number, a drum-free hymn and some understated accompaniment to whispering vocalist Kahimi Karie.
Such musical schizophrenia can descend into embarrassing pastiche in the wrong hands, yet the New Jazz Ensemble negotiated such detours effortlessly. Yoshihide’s contribution to jazz comes from a lifetime of such genre experiments and an intense scrutiny into the minutiae of sound. Very much a post-modern, post-digital group, OYNJE invests jazz tunes with a microscopic attention to detail derived from reductionist onkyo investigations. Both Harth and Tsugami fill their playing with tiny actions learnt from onkyo minimalists yet also blast with the barrelhouse force of Albert Ayler. Despite these risk-taking experimentalists and Yoshihide’s assertion that “sound texture is more important than musical structure”, from this performance the evaluation is that Otomo Yoshihide’s New Jazz Ensemble really swings!
Support came from quartet Tys Tys – “hush” in Danish – an intentionally ramshackle, low-fi group (literally in that the drummer sat and played from the floor) combining spartan, childlike melodies with breathy, seductive vocals. Leader and singer Maria Laurette Friis possesses a beguilingly naïve voice, yet her daintily inflected English soon sounded mannered and irritating, particularly when accompanied only by Henrik Sundh on tinny keyboards. Initially charming, their twee melodies, incomplete gestures and lack of cohesion became cloying after 20 minutes; by 50, I was desperate for some kind of decisiveness. Yoshihide and his ensemble were just the answer.