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Offering the Gods of Free Jazz the Most Beautiful Fruit in Existence

Japanese music writer and Takayanagi scholar Yoshiyuki Kitazato on the Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit's Mass Hysterism in Another Situation translate by Justin Simon. These notes were originally written in July, 2006 for the Japanese CD release of the album and are translated to English here for the first time.

Photograph by Tatsuo Minami


Miles Davis - freshly baptized in electricity - created a new world colored by Black aesthetics on Bitches Brew, and abandoned four-beat for good. As if walking a tightrope, Miles carried his music from one transformation to the next, always at the forefront, always positioning himself as both scout and symbol of the next frontier in Black music. Masayuki Takayanagi, by contrast, also embraced his era’s cutting edge but never completely abandoned old forms. He gathered new groups for each of his conceptual projects (Second Concept, New Direction, Angry Waves, Three for Duke), and at times tackled entirely different styles of music concurrently. If Miles’ path - a constant re-invention of the self - could be called modernism, then Japanese avant-garde music was destined to be postmodern from the start.


Takayanagi also fell under the spell of electricity (or, more precisely, the spell of acoustic technology) and reached a point where he could no longer return to his previous ways. He auditioned a solo piece titled “Meta Improvisation” during his November 1984 tour of Hokkaido with Teruto Soejima, and conducted various experiments at Nishi-Ogikubo club Aketa No Mise before reaching a decisive turning point with Action Direct, which he premiered at Zoujoji Temple on October 5, 1985. From that point on, Takayanagi dove headfirst into noise performances using his own unique sound system, and immersed himself in a radically new sonic environment. The guitar, once his trusted translator of inner idioms and primary production tool, was now placed flat on a table and redefined as a noise-making device. Cradled in the guitarist’s arms for years, this small companion was reborn, absorbed into the massive system Takayanagi surrounded himself with. It was a Copernican revolution, as if he’d inverted performance roles, or turned his music’s skin inside out. In terms of Takayanagi’s improvisational work, it was a critical leap forward, and a complete break from his “comfort zone” of modern/free jazz. In that sense, we might call Action Direct (ALM), which contains this Zoujoji performance, Takayanagi’s Bitches Brew. (Even into his later years, performing pieces like Piazzolla’s tango works, for example, Takayanagi demonstrated an insatiable spirit of inquiry towards music, and, in that sense, remained multi-faceted even after Action Direct. But at least with regards to improvisation, I think his new approach had a decisive weight to it that made his tango performances seem like nothing more than an avant-garde musician’s side hobby).


To unlock the mystery of Takayanagi’s transformation, look to his final New Direction group, with Akira Iijima on guitar and Hiroshi Yamazaki on drums. The trio debuted as part of the “Another Situation” concert series, which Takayanagi held (in parallel with his regular performances at Shibuya’s Jyan Jyan venue) at Shibuya’s Pulcinella venue, and later relocated to Meidaimae’s Kid Ailack Hall. This iteration of New Direction played the seventeenth “Another Situation” in December 1982, and lasted about two years, playing all the way up to the twenty-fourth edition in November 1984. They gave their final performance at one of Takayanagi’s regular Jyan Jyan nights that December. The trio’s appearances, which could be described as harbingers of Action Direct, were unheralded triumphs. The piece on this album was recorded at the twentieth “Another Situation” on August 14, 1983, and comprises the “mass projection” performed in the latter half of the show. The album has been separated into ten minute tracks for the listener’s convenience, but the actual performance was forty uninterrupted minutes. Incidentally, the first half of the same night’s performance (not included on the CD) was a forty-minute “gradual projection” performance, also uninterrupted.


In early ’81, Takayanagi’s liver damage caused his esophageal varices to rupture, and he was forced to stop playing for nine months. The distinctive music of Takayanagi’s reborn New Direction Unit, a guitar duo with Akira Iijima formed late ’82, and Lonely Woman (Three Blind Mice), an album of solo guitar pieces recorded summer ’82, showed Takayanagi getting a fresh start, and hinted at what was to come. With the clarity of hindsight, we now know Takayanagi’s full journey, all the way up to his final years. And if we look backwards from his final landing place, we can retroactively follow his trajectory from deep “mass projection” explorations to emerging solo performances to a re-examination of acoustic technologies and, finally, to noise (his original response to ‘80s post-modernism), when Takayanagi synthesized miscellaneous sound information (via tape collage, etc.) with a variety of performance styles and personal music theories. Extracting these elements of his work, we can trace a logical path to his Action Direct period. But to reduce his journey in this way would be a mistake, for this perspective fails to account for other significant choices, events, etc. - among them the aleotoric essence of Takayanagi’s performances, which must have been a constant process of exploration and trial and error, the fundamental performative nature of his music, brought to life in concert, and the epistemological disconnection behind his separation from his former self, for example. In other words, we’re not hearing the essential, aleotoric nature of his improvised music. We should ask ourselves - what was it about Takayanagi’s prior performance work that inspired his decisive break from his past?


The “mass projection” at the twentieth “Another Situation” was essentially free jazz, guided by an assortment of pulses Hiroshi Yamazaki scattered throughout the sound field. Without producing a single phrase, the two distorted guitars became simple “electric sound” generators, and like fish swimming freely in water, they each tore through time in their own fashion. And yet there was a remarkable sense of unity to how they filled the world with electric vibrations. Is there a simpler, more beautiful music than this? New Direction’s performances and “mass projections” weren’t always this way. Each performance varied from one to the next. But on this date, with a sensitivity to sound reminiscent of Ayler’s Ghosts, the performance reaches a plateau (where the world, or at least the listener, experiences a blissful state, as if enveloped in sound. It’s a generous experience that somehow encapsulates the wonders of the world itself, an experience inaccessible in our prosaic, daily lives). Takayanagi’s trio offered the gods of free jazz the most beautiful fruit in existence.


The unexpected echo, or outside presence, that emerges from the “electric sound” interference is a highlight of the piece. But perhaps even more notable is how, over the course of the forty-minute performance, the singular, uncontrollable sound of Action Direct (something akin to a vibrating guitar, a sound Toshihiko Shimizu once attempted to articulate with the words “sound and fury” and “underlying reverberation”) reveals itself a handful of times. In those moments, Hiroshi Yamazaki’s relentless, physical pulse abandoned its role as “underlying reverberation” (i.e. his playing trampled on the conventions of free jazz), and exposed the raw state of a music that emanated from a deeper place. I haven’t heard any other performances by this trio, but I think the group, especially Takayanagi, may have repeatedly performed their “mass projections” to revisit what, ultimately, they could only experience together. When this group played, a strange sort of temporal structure arose from the familiar free jazz format. The physical pulse of free jazz gave way to a mechanical organization of electronics, ushering in a fundamental transformation of Takayanagi’s long-held “projection” concept. Takayanagi must have immediately understood that a wholly different environment would be necessary to pry open the door to this new, bizarre realm that had appeared in the midst of free jazz.

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