Sotto Voce

Sotto Voce

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This album culls three live improvisations recorded between July 1999 and October 2001 in Morioka and Tokyo, Japan. It yields two surprises. The first one is a brand of improvisation that steers away from what has become the embodiment of the so-called Japanese paradox: the violent onslaught of noise and the ascetic silence of the onkyo scene. Sotto Voce's music comes closer to the European conception of free improvisation, closer to the London-Berlin axis (especially the artists revolving around the FMP label). But it is hardly derivative; it has its own identity and its own quirks. The second surprise is to find Onnyk playing saxophone in this group -- the man's previous release on Public Eyesore consisted of guitar solos. The three pieces take different directions. The first one could be called "standard" European Free Improv, as piano, sax, electric guitar, and drums follow individual discourses of an atonal and arrhythmically kind, discourses that interlace in a dual process of listening and communication. Track two, at 30 minutes long, leaves the cerebral cortex behind to find a comfortable place in a more atavistic part of the brain. The playing is gutsier, aiming more at creating confrontation than finding its place within a bigger whole. A percussion break halfway through leads to an interlude by guitarist Noizu, who develops a relaxed space that will gradually get invaded, first by Onnyk's Albert Ayler-esque screams, and then by Yoko Sato's insistent piano motif. Noizu "steps on it" and lets his playing escalate to a noise fury that finds its resolution in drummer Akira Obara's decision to stop with a bang and let piano trickles seep through the resonating cymbals. Track three adopts a jazzier attitude introduced by Yoko's phrasing, only to branch out into free improv. With better sound quality (instead of a one-microphone recording), this album could have a lot of impact, but as it is, it still makes a fine document from musicians who hardly get the same treatment as Tokyo-based avant-garde artists like Toshimaru Nakamura or Otomo Yoshihide.

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