Various Artists

Improvised Music From Japan

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AllMusic Review by

In honor of the fifth anniversary of his website, Yoshiyuki Suzuki compiled this massive, often spectacular collection of work from dozens of Japanese improvising musicians (with several European and American collaborators), spread out over ten CDs and 73 tracks. The stylistic range of the production is enormous: While much of the music resides in the post-AMM and electro-acoustic continuum, it also touches on quirky pop (Haco), ambient music, free jazz, and adapted forms of traditional Japanese music for koto and shamisen, all beautifully presented in a handsome paulownia box and sturdy dual-CD sleeves, and accompanied by an 80-page book offering biographies and program notes. The music runs from ultra-quiet and serene to overwhelmingly, almost obnoxiously noisy, from dead serious to coyly joking. In any venture of this size, it would be easy to argue that the cream of the music could have been winnowed down to six or seven discs, but that would be both a minor quibble and also take away from the more "realistic" picture of the Japanese improvising scene, excesses and all. Highlights abound, but they include Yasuhiro Otani's ferocious "Music for 50 iMacs," Toshimaru Nakamura's stunningly pristine pieces for no-input mixing board and sine waves, Otomo Yoshihide's gorgeous, blues-drenched guitar solo "The Blue Kite," Aki Onda's spectrally altered cassette recordings of everyday occurrences, and shamisen master Michihiro Sato's fiery improvisations. The least successful pieces tend to be those that include overt references to rock (especially of the fusion variety) or jazz, but nothing really slips below the level of at least interesting. This is arguably not a good place for newcomers to this sort of music to begin; aside from the steep price for this limited edition, it would be better to sample individual releases by some of the artists involved. But for fans of this scene, this compendium of previously unissued music is an absolute jewel and will come to be seen as a major and wonderful release.