Quintet, Sextet, Duos (OTOROKU) was recorded on the last night of three for Otomo Yoshihide and Sachiko M at Cafe Oto, London, in March 2009: the 11th not the 9th, as the credits suggest (Otomo’s Piano Solo was recorded that night). Their guests were the longstanding trio of Evan Parker, John Edwards and Tony Marsh, and saxophonist John Butcher.
I’m reviewing a new CD issue (also available as a download) of the now out-of-print Quintet/Sextet vinyl edition. The CD includes two ‘bonus’ tracks not included on the LP. Both duos, these are sequenced at the end of the CD, although they came first on the night. In fact, the CD presents the whole night in reverse order: first the vigorous sextet finale, then a more exploratory quintet set with Butcher laying out, and then the duos: Butcher with Otomo, then Butcher with Sachiko M.
The 23:00 sextet (the cover says it’s the quintet, but the two horns are evident) begins with the sampled sound of a needle dropping into a groove, then coalesces gradually around the dual saxophonics of Butcher and Parker as they twine, pull apart and spiral around each other. A flocking effect as they combine in flurries of circular breathing sets up a lovely contrast with the subsequent fall to little more than disjointed mutterings as Otomo’s guitar comes in. Until that point, the guitar and Sachiko M’s sampler add texture: irruptive, tightly-reined barbs and thin, ear-snagging pitches.
Cooling down after some turbulence resulting from Marsh’s agitation, Otomo tests some jazzier lines against the twinned saxes. Elsewhere he favours vibrant sustains of bent notes, or chord strums naturally modulated to blend and in-fill, while at the end of a brief solo by Parker he matches uncharacteristically jarring sampler noise with a hint of abandon .
This is considered but probing music, its tensions played out with a fine ear for shifts in internal dynamics: everyone contributes their silence whenever it’s needed. Witness the lovely, hushed heat-haze of sine wave, cymbal wash, halting sax and barely-there feedback in the fifth minute of the 28:31 quintet performance, and the suppressed tension in the collective response: Evan Parker plays with increasing urgency, but takes a strong ripple over cymbals as a bridge to the near-silence of Sachiko M’s barely-there thread of pure sound. The Butcher-less quintet plough this furrow for much of their remaining time, turning over an ever-evolving assortment of new combinations in the process.
The two duos each last around thirteen minutes. John Butcher initially plays feedback sax against Otomo’s sustains, carefully modulating his sound by adjusting the proximity of sax bell to mic, triggering soft blooms of sonic foom with unblown key clicks. A sudden lyrical flight of soprano is a delightful surprise, but the duo mostly prefer mindful sound-painting on a rough sonic canvas; that is until near the end, where more aggressively chordal guitar provokes stentorian tenor response.
Butcher is probably the only saxophonist who can closely match, blend and amplify the rarified acoustic qualities and flutter/glitch transitions of Sachiko M’s ‘no input’ sampler. He expands on her etheric presence with pressurised leakages from otherwise airtight embouchure; deeper, sometimes spittle-flecked soundings; and taut lines extended by circular breathing. At times the duo allow silence to seep into their performance, and the disc ends in the near-absolute silence of sifted microsound.
This is a superb album, and relatively rare in Otomo’s extensive catalogue, in that it documents a pure improv engagement somewhere between the extremes of ‘lowercase’ or Onkyo music and the more aggressive impulses formerly channelled into Ground Zero. It’s likewise equidistant to the revisionism of his New Jazz ensembles and his completely original work as a composer.
Otomo Yoshihide guitar; Sachiko M sampler; Evan Parker saxophones; Tony Marsh drums; John Edwards double bass; John Butcher saxophones.
Roger Turner and Otomo Yoshihide – The Last Train.
Otomo Yoshihide & Paal Nilsen-Love (s/t).
Roscoe Mitchell, Tony Marsh, John Edwards – Improvisations.
Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet – Concert for Fukushima DVD (feat. Otomo Yoshihide).