Live at Yoshiwara is the first live album by French musical mischief makers Ghost Rhythms. This core ten-piece (plus supplemental players) led by composers, drummer Xavier Gélard and pianist Camille Petit, have been together since 2005, and have issued three studio full-lengths, all on their Paris independent Laboratoire d'Exploration Musicale (LED). This date, recorded live in their rehearsal studio, is their first to appear stateside. None of the core members of Ghost Rhythms are full-time professional musicians -- for most, this is their only regular band. Nonetheless, they assemble every Friday night for rehearsals that serve as workshops for trying out new material and arrangements with input from all members. Their band's mischief doesn't exist only inside the music. This set is conceptually fictional: a concert compiled from performances in unlikely and/or non-existent or long-gone locations between 1834 and 2123. Yoshiwara itself is the name of the club in Fritz Lang's film Metropolis from 1927. Only Ghost Rhythms knows why.
The music here walks a wide loop around Soft Machine and Magma, Univers Zero and Henry Cow, Miles Davis and Miriodor, Van Der Graaf Generator and Art Zoyd. It's impeccably assembled and played, while freely indulging the more insane aspects of progressive rock, avant-garde chamber music, and electric jazz. Opener "Yoshiwara's Theme," a seemingly improvised piece drawn from electronic ambient noise and a subdued bass twinned with an electric guitar, is followed by "Maohee," a funky jazz tune where tom-tom breaks are shoved up against strings, a driving bass line, saxophones, piano, and popping congas. This is where the Miles of Bitches Brew is played by National Health! "La Chose" is one of two early works that has been radically rearranged for performance here. Its vamp is a four-note Zappa-esque '70s groove shot through with progressive big band charts (Oliver Nelson anyone?) and roiling post-bop. "Nattes" is a chamber orchestra piece woven through with classical minimalism as horns, strings, and piano twirl around and through one another in a musical labyrinth. "Kamaloka" is swirling, murky, dark jazz presented courtesy of brittle funky fusion and punchy prog rock. "Xanadu," as its title might suggest, is a bright groover that kicks off with a deeply funky electric guitar followed by horns, a popping bass line, and wonderful breaks from the drum kit and congas. The two closing tracks are also the longest. "Circumambulation" is a longish chamber piece led by cello, piano, and bass. Over nine and half minutes, it travels through sequenced cadences, interludes, and a short solo; it is as haunting as it is beautiful. Closer "Chamber Claire" recalls the Soft Machine of Fifth and Bundles engaged in scattershot improvs and Henry Cow-esque crescendos of dissonance and dynamics. The fluid exchanges between musicians reveal how carefully considered both harmonic and rhythmic interplay are and how each chart plays to the strengths of one particular musician or subgroup. Despite the musical sophistication and adventure on Live at Yoshiwara, this music is extremely accessible to a wide swathe of listeners. Its release signals the magnificent arrival of Ghost Rhythms on American shores. Get it now.