no wave 2013-07-14: 阿部薫 (Kaoru Abe)

Improvising music series

阿部薫 (Kaoru Abe) died 35 years ago, on 9th September 1978. Because in this show I present the following musics

Derek Bailey ‎– Duo & Trio Improvisation


This 1978 recording finds the estimable British guitarist in the musical company of several members of the cutting edge of the Japanese jazz avant-garde of the time. These musicians, including Kaoru Abe (who died later that year), the late bassist Motoharu Yoshizawa, and the trumpeter Toshinori Kondo match Bailey.
The duo between Bailey and Kondo, wielding two trumpets simultaneously, is a small gem of concise free improv, while the trio with Abe and saxophonist Mototeru Takagi screams along with abandon. The session includes a couple of duos between Kondo and Takagi. One is a brief piece with each on multiple horns, sounding very much as though intended in tribute to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who had died a few months prior to this recording. The other is a very attractive, considered performance beginning with watery lines that escalate into cascading torrents of sound. When the trio that opened the disc (Bailey, Yoshizawa, and drummer Toshi Tsuchitori) returns for a finale, the listener has the sense of having witnessed an intriguing roundtable of ideas, a meeting of cultures that turned out to not be very different. Duo & Trio Improvisations isn’t an earthshaking entry in Bailey‘s lengthy discography, but a fine and absorbing listen, worthy of notice.

1. Derek Bailey ‎– Duo & Trio Improvisation (2003, CD, Kitty Records ‎– MKF 1034)

3. Improvisation 23 (Derek Bailey, Kaoru Abe & Mototeru Takagi)

阿部薫 (Kaoru Abe) ‎– 暗い日曜日 (Kurai Nichiyobi)


Kurai Nichiyobi (Sombre Dimanche) collects material from two shows, the first on December 4 (1971) at the Akita University Festival, the other two days later at a jazz coffee shop. From the earlier is drawn one track, a sensational version of ‘After The Acacia Rain’. A radically different to that on Acacia No Ame Ga Yamu Toki (performed only five weeks earlier), this is classic Abe. He plays scant regard to the original, contemptuously intoning its basic tune before proceeding to completely tear it to shit. The one track which illustrates Abe at a massive early career peak, it’s an unbelievably frenetic, jumpy, and deliberately rough-around-the-edges performance, and also the one on which an Ayler influence is easily detectable (not just because of its audible ‘Ghosts’ rip) – an almost comically brassy reference to the original, followed by a vicious, breakneck flight into the ether, with ‘Sombre Dimanche’ later given the same kind of treatment.
It’s followed by an equally impressive alto improvisation (‘Alto Saxophone Solo Improvisation’) which, though not as heart-shakingly intense, demonstrates more technical strings to Abe‘s bow. Sort of a demonstration of technique, it amplifies at length a series of his favourite tricks with the instrument: short, brutally blown tones, abruptly gushed out one on top of another in a staircase of sound, and periods of overblowing so harsh as to resemble a form of electronic distortion, speedily juxtaposed with playful melodic cadences. Here Abe is all over the saxophone’s range, leaping from one end of the spectrum to the other with astonishing skill and dazzling pace.
Also included is a bass clarinet improvisation, which further argues the point made by the PSF CDs – that Abe‘s work on the bass clarinet is fundamentally different to his work on the alto saxophone, beyond any blandly obvious contrast in basic sound between the two instruments. Though certainly not afraid to abuse the bass clarinet in his typically frantic manner, Abe was seemingly enamoured of the muted, sombre palette it could project. Hearing a piece as restrained comes as a relief shock after the two preceding alto screams, and no doubt it provided some relief for those who witnessed the performance. It’s fairly typical of Abe‘s bass clarinet excursions: cautious tinkering with pretty, melodic note structures interspersed with tones drawn out and slowly faded – though this is hardly ‘soundscaping’.

2. 阿部薫 (Kaoru Abe) ‎– 暗い日曜日 (Kurai Nichiyobi) (1997, CD, Tokuma Japan Corporation ‎– TKCA-71096)

1. アカシアの雨がやむとき (After The Acacia Rain)
4. 暗い日曜日 (Sombre Dimanche)

阿部薫 (Kaoru Abe) ‎– 未発表音源+初期音源
(Mi Happyou Ongen + Shoki Ongen)
CD BOX 1970~1973


Abe at his best! Crudely generalising a contrast in free jazz tendencies between AMM/SME/MIC/FMP and AACM/ESP, it’s hard to say if Abe‘s closer to the gentle, bearded intellectualism of some European improvisation, or to the gutsier funk of more US freedom fighters. Up there with the best of both Western sides of the sea, but unlike any one from either, his stroppy, razor-sharpening alto style mixes tousled emotionalism with dogged puzzling, like an amalgam of Anthony Braxton and a sadder, angrier Albert Ayler.
DIW released Mass Projection, a previously unissued material dating from a July 1970 gig which sounds as full-bore heavy and straight-up phenomenal as one could hope. This was originally going to come out on PSF, but DIW naughtily intervened – after the deal with PSF had been agreed – with a significantly larger offer to secure the release. Mass Projection – the title a reference to Takayanagi‘s philosophy of improvisation – is sufficiently harsh that it could, with the benefit of hindsight, be regarded as a kind of proto-snuff jazz, in that its only real point of comparison is the wall-flattening roar that Borbetomagus would begin conjuring up 10 years later. The two pieces here – 29 and 24 minutes long respectively, I’m told they were the first and third pieces from the gig in question – see Takayanagi and Abe levelling breathtakingly intense ear-shredding salvoes at each other. Takayanagi is simply sensational, extracting vicious, razor-edge feedback skrees from his guitar which slice gaping holes in the air; Abe, as one would expect, rises to the challenge, meeting Takayanagi head-on, and going all-out to match him blast for blast. Neither lets up an inch (though there is a brief period of respite about 17 minutes into the second track) and, unlike Kaitaiteki kokan, a real musical synthesis is achieved: feedback and noise deployed with musical intelligence and skill and deep reserves of energy to create an intimidatingly dense and textured roaring din, which at this point on the historical timeline was pretty much unprecedented. One of those uncategorisable archival releases that’s not a “new” album and not a reissue, Mass Projection is thrilling, sensational, a revelation – this could well be some of the heaviest music we’ve yet heard from either player.

3. 阿部薫 (Kaoru Abe) ‎– 未発表音源+初期音源 (2012, 4 x CD Box, Youth Inc. ‎– YOUTH-165) (CD1)
高柳昌行・阿部薫* ‎– 集団投射 (Mass Projection)
1. 阿部薫・高柳昌行 Duo – 1970.7.9 Station ’70

Kaoru Abe ‎– Mort À Crédit


After the Partitas double album (recorded 1973, released 1981), Mort À Credit was to become the last Abe album to be released in his lifetime.
Mort À Credit was the title given to Céline‘s novel, not a coincidence and an analogy that makes at least a little bit of sense – Abe was reportedly a major Céline fan, and his solo disks on PSF have Japanese translations of Céline text attached to the songtitles in the CD inserts. It consists of two alto improvs from a show on October 18, 1975, and five more (three on alto, two on sopranino) from another performance a couple of days earlier. Released by Kojima on 2LP in 1976 (the reissue does not appear to contain any unreleased material), it can be said to mark a significant change in Abe‘s style.
It seems that Abe had lost a little of his urgency – this can perhaps be in part attributed to the passage of time – and become more interested in spacing and the exact rhythms of phrasing. While never entirely ignorant of these concerns, by now they had come very much to the fore, as is illustrated by the two recordings from the earlier show here, in which roughly cut-off notes are spaced so regularly that their rhythms are like watching a slowed-down strobelight. With run after run of harsh, crude and almost bawdy staccato honking, Abe speedily races through the octaves in ascending and descending anti-order cadence. He breaks regularly into very shrill squeaks and squeals (and the occasional bold wail-melody) and references non-existent simplistic and just about jokey tunes. The eventual effect is like having someone tapdance on stilletoes on your temple. The recording of these two tracks, mastered for CD reissue directly and audibly from the vinyl, both suffers and benefits from either ill-considered microphone placement or unpredictable stage movement on the part of Abe – some passages are about 50% clearer than others, and at more than one point the fidelity swings sharply, moving from distant, muffled high-pitch screeching tones to furious forehead-centre blowing gusts in virtual machine-gun arc.
Of the three alto tracks from the October 16 performance, the first is the most impressive. Again beginning with twisting, dancing note clusters that somersault forth from the speakers, Abe soon moves into the increasingly familiar technique of aching, wrenching bursts of heavy shrieking alto, separated by stopwatched periods of silence. Dwelling almost exclusively in the upper register, Abe sets upon the sounds lying within a limited tonal range and squeezes hard, eking an incredibly broad range of textures from an ostensibly small palette.

4. Kaoru Abe ‎– Mort À Crédit (1995, 2 x CD, ALM Records ‎– ALCD-8,9) CD1

1. Alto Improvisation No.1
2. Alto Improvisation No.2

You can listen here (from 0:00):

no wave 2013-07-14: part1
no wave 2013-07-14: part2
no wave 2013-07-14: part3
no wave 2013-07-14: part4