Various Artists

Festival Beyond Innocence: A Brief History in 67 Chapters, Vol. 2

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The second volume in a collection of four retrospective sets from an annual Japanese avant-garde music festival, this disc may make listeners feel like they are afloat at sea on a raft. There are periods when the currents are mild and the drift extremely pleasant, the musicians and audience alike basking in the glow of superbly recorded sound quality. Then the raft washes ashore on an island, and inevitably it seems like some kind of pretty strange place. Considering the presence of players associated with extreme noise music, a further comparison with rough, choppy seas, even a tidal wave, seems almost superfluous. In contrast, the production by chef de festival Uchihashi Kazuhiza keeps its sails raised high and avoids drowning the listener with an excess of anything. He continues the pattern in a way, composing with the tracks selected, resulting in suites that gently evolve from one stage lineup to another. It is easy to imagine festival participants feeling like their individuality is being lost through this process, the meaning of their music slanted in some way, depending on what other tracks are in proximity. The discs in this series can also be seen as a logical continuation of the festival's programming, in which the roster of invited artists is presented in different combinations over several nights. For this collection from 1997 and 1998, the presence of the marvelous German guitarist and instrument inventor Hans Reichel is similar to the gilding around the edges of a vintage harpsichord. The editing style is established immediately by having a short example of one of his luscious guitar solos, floating on a perfect sea, docking directly into a strange narration delivered by vocalist Machida Ko. This is one of the longer pieces on this anthology and might provoke any number of reactions -- it is weird, to be sure. A duo performance by violinists Katsui Yuji and Kinoshita Kazushige is a favorite from this selection, and the entire series. Among other things, it is a beautiful example of how both electronics and the natural sound of acoustic instruments can be used simultaneously in an improvisation. This type of performance is not exactly what dominates the program this time out; there are several extended series of composed or arranged music, all the tracks quite unique. The delightful "Mutelko Punch -- Nonresistance Punch," a title that reads like an English slogan on a Japanese t-shirt, is composed by saxophonist and vocalist Kawabata Minoru and is something in between a track of Albert Ayler's New Grass and a brilliant score from Indian cinema. It flows into "Petenshi Number 16," in which Hirose Jynnji spits forth a tough and thoroughly mainstream tenor sax solo. A bit later in the program the weary navigational metaphor of a boat plows right into a garage, where Haco, a pleasant voice to hear anytime, delivers straight-ahead rock & roll. The vocal by Kyoko on "Smoke" recalls vintage Blondie, as does the band arrangement, so it is a good choice for a segueway; then along comes guitarist Kawabata Makoto and a brief reminder that the location is an avant-garde music festival in Kobe, Japan, and not a so-called "live stage" in a Tokyo nightclub district. By now a kind of perverted pop mentality has taken a toehold, so it is logical that when Reichel comes back, he is accompanied by the catchy flute-like sounds of an ondes martenot (that's a vintage keyboard instrument, not a sports car) and a driving, jiving rhythm from expatriate drummer Samm Bennett. There are other fine performances worth noting on this enjoyable set. The trio of Haco, Chiku Toshiaki, and Takara Kumiko presents extended vocals with guitar, electronics, and percussion, but it would be much better to describe them as sounding like one of the monsters from Gremlins being strangled at a drum circle. In this case, the heights of inspiration reached are a disservice to the track that follows, a vocal duet by Thomas Buckner and Makigami Koichi that ought to be good but winds up sounding flabby -- a better idea is to cue this track up separately. The seventh track, a duet between a turntable player and someone whose instrument is identified with a handful of question marks, is another highlight, as is the alto sax playing of Iwata Kou on a piece that again evokes the spirit of Ayler.