Pierre Crépon selects a playlist to accompany Teruto Soejima’s book Free Jazz In Japan
A large part of Teruto Soejima’s Free Jazz In Japan: A Personal History, recently translated by Public Bath Press, focuses on the early years of free jazz in the country. The selection here follows the music’s recorded history from its 1969 starting point to the end of the 1970s.
Although emanating from a small pool of musicians often working in overlapping units, the music was already very diverse by 1969–70 (tracks 1–5). American points of departure are audible, in Masahiko Satō’s piano playing or in bassist Motoharu Yoshizawa and saxophonist Mototeru Takagi’s use of the Ornette Coleman classic “Lonely Woman”, but the music is already quite unlike what could then be heard elsewhere in the world. Masahiko Togashi’s finely articulated drumming, Takagi’s reeds playing, or guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi’s radical Mass Projection methodology, all constitute individual additions to the free playing canon.
The sixth track introduces saxophonist Kaoru Abe, who has with the passing of time probably become the most legendary musician among those who played in the spaces managed by Soejima and in the few coffeehouses around in the 1970s. Abe’s harsh tone, often heard solo, and his shattered melodic fragments, certainly belong among the most unique sounds to be have been produced on the alto.
Early Japanese free jazz was abundantly documented on record. This is particularly true for pianist Yosuke Yamashita’s trio. The band is heard here playing a composition named after Muhammad Ali, at the 1973 Inspiration & Power 14 festival, a gathering of most of Japan’s free players in a Shinjuku art house theatre produced by Soejima.
Many of the records excerpted here are now considered classics of Japanese music. Mid-70s recordings (8–11) reflect expanding approaches, from Togashi’s large ensemble work on Spiritual Nature to Itaru Oki’s highly original trumpet playing, and a collaboration with American soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy on his never reissued The Wire, taped in 1975 during the first of many visits to Japan.
The selection closes with its only release from a non-Japanese label, a recent archival offering from Lithuanian label NoBusiness. The extended, blistering Kaoru Abe duet with drummer Sabu Toyozumi was recorded shortly before the saxophonist’s early death in 1978. Bassist Motoharu Yoshizawa is a strong presence throughout the selection (including on 2, 3, and 11). If only a single track had to be recommended, it would be Yoshizawa’s wonderful short solo bass piece, “Distance”.
Masahiko Togashi Quartet
“Speed & Space #1”
From Speed & Space
Masahiko Togashi Quartet
“Invitation To 'Corn-Pipe' Dance”
From We Now Create
(Victor World Group/Bridge)
From Guitar Workshop/Independence: Tread On Sure Ground
Itaru Oki Trio
Motoharu Yoshizawa & Mototeru Takagi
From 1972 Winter/What Beyond
(Sound Works/King Harvest)
Yosuke Yamashita Trio
From Inspiration & Power 14 Free Jazz Festival 1
From Outfit: Bass Solo 2½
“Caesar And Capone”
From 幻想ノート/Phantom Note
“On The Footpath”
From Spiritual Nature
Steve Lacy Sextet
From The Wire
Kaoru Abe & Sabu Toyozumi
“Song For Sakamoto Kikuyo Part III”
Free Jazz In Japan is reviewed in The Wire 423. Subscribers can access the full reviews section via the online archive. The book is frequently available from our online bookshop.