Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Brilliant Avant Garde from Kaze

Appreciating brilliant avant garde jazz is a little like sudden enlightenment in the Zen tradition, or maybe being born again.  Before it happens to you, say those to whom it has happened, it is very difficult to believe in it.  So just sit still, pray, and listen to Cecil Taylor.  Sooner or later you will raise the Bodhi mind. 
Unfortunately, there is a logical obstacle to plunging in.  Just because some brilliant and compelling music is inscrutable on the first few hearings doesn’t mean that all inscrutable music is brilliant.  I still think Jackson Pollock was a fraud and that James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake is not only unreadable but is not even a book. 
All I can tell us that I love a lot of music now that I once found disturbing or incoherent.  I would add to that list some pieces of music that I now find so compelling that I cannot imagine how they were ever opaque.  Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto is one.  Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch is another. 
Tonight I am reviewing I am reviewing an astonishingly strong album that displays all the strengths and makes virtues of the weaknesses of avant garde jazz.  Tornado (August 20, 2013) is the second offering by Kaze, a quartet consisting of:

1.       Satoko Fujii (piano)
2.      Natsuki Tamura (trumpet)
3.      Christian Pruvost (trumpet)
4.      Peter Orins (drums)

I have a rather restrictive definition of the terms “avant garde” and “free” jazz.  The latter refers to the production of music without any advance score or even theme.  You just start playing.  The former refers to the way that the music is composed.  Avant garde jazz cuts music up into some set of constituent parts (themes, moods, etc.) and then rearranges it.  The arrangement is guided by the parts rather than any imposed narrative. 
Tornado is textbook avant garde and I found it immediately accessible and delicious.  It has a lot of the conspicuous instruments of the subgenre.  You get horns pretending to be screeching or farting or grinding the edge of a surgeon’s blade, passages that narrow to a single instrument or two pensively weaving a tale and then explode into a circus of sound, a little cookie monster warbling, and the occasional romantic waltz. 
The trick is in the weaving.  Each turn has to keep you interested and some have to make you want to cry.  Our lives are made up of vast array of sounds and stories.  Passion rises out of the burdens of flesh.  This music works that kind of magic. 
Fujii and Tamura are Japanese, I am guessing.  Pruvost and Orins are borrowed from the “French improvisers collective” Muzzix.  I am not sure what an improvisers collective is, or how many are running around loose, but the pairing of the two cultures pays dividends.  We get some Asian bells followed by horn work that could properly introduce a bull fight.  We also get, I think, a little spookiness.  That impression may be due to the fact that I watched The Conjuring yesterday.  If so, it is a testament to the power of this music to draw in elements of my own consciousness. 
This music is evidence of the existence of entire jazz worlds that most listeners and even collectors might easily be unaware of.  Satoko Fujii is obviously a master and a visit to her website reveals a rich catalog of recordings.  That such music can be recorded is evidence that such worlds can be easily visited by wanders who fly about in their internet tardis.  Tornado was released by Circum-Libra Records.  You can also get solo recordings by Fujii (Gen Himmel) and Tamura (Dragon Mat) on Libra Records.  I will review these in short order. 
I urge you to seek out and purchase these recordings.  This is music worth investing money, time, and heart in. 

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