Despite locating its releases in places requiring a journey off the beaten path, the music of Next Order has always been well worth the trip. Since emerging with the appropriately titled Live-2003 (Order Tone, 2003), this Japanese fusion outfit has been working an intriguing nexus point where high energy, metal-edged improvisation, hints of British Canterbury, touches of King Crimson, and trace elements of American jazz guitarists including John Scofield and Pat Metheny meet. Live-Refined represents a further honing of the Next Order sound, its fourth in a series of live recordings that also includes Live-Powered Nexus (Lolo, 2005) and Live-Roaring Colors (Lolo, 2008).
As ever, Live-Refined places guitarist Yuji Moto and Takumi Seino in left and right channel respectively. Both are capable of overdriven shredding when required, but Moto is clearly the more aggressive of the pair, with Seino more predisposed to a clean and warm-toned (but no less virtuosic) approach. Over Seino's rhythmically propulsive but lighter textured "The Stick," each player supports the other with a minimalism-informed pattern; but once the initial interlocking, Crimson-like guitar lines are in place, with bassist Atsutomo Ishigaki an equal participant in the contrapuntal fun, Moto solos with a combination of singing, delay-drenched lyricism and gritty, whammy bar-bended exploration.
Live-Refined is the first Next Order disc to feature compositional contributions from everyone in the group, notably drummer Hiroshi "Gori" Matsuda, whose "Oro Camnpo" comes closest to the Canterbury sound of groups like Hatfield and the North, National Health and Phil Miller In Cahoots, although the lengthier solo space is closer in tone to '80s-era Pat Metheny Group, but with stripped down instrumentation. Ishigaki's funky "No Hegitation" finds Seino, with a slightly gritty tone, layering bop-inflected, inside/outside lines that reference Scofield while avoiding direct imitation.
Live-Refined is also the first disc where Moto isn't the primary composer; here he contributes only two tunes. The high octane "Death MeNtal" opens the disc on a powerful note, with a staggering, lightning fast theme and reckless soloing from both guitarists. Moto's wah-wah-driven solo is an early highlight that contrasts sharply with Seino's, an equally impressive combination of slowly building legato lines and relentlessly strummed power chords. The closing "Angry Stone" is another funkified piece, relying on deft interplay between Moto and Seino, and a lithe, in-the-gut solo from Ishigaki.
's classic In Pas(s)ing (ECM, 1970), before kicking into high gear with Muto's densely jagged solo, bolstered by Matsuda's turbulent but backbeat-driven support. But it's Ishigaki's "SIMM 55" that's Live-Refined's biggest surprisean occasionally swinging bit of free jazz that represents a decidedly new direction for Next Order.
Seino dominates Live-Refined compositionally, with four tracks to his credit including the beautiful, dark-hued ballad "Fable," which starts quietly, even referencing a touch of Mick Goodrick
As it continues to hone its approach, Next Order is turning into one of the best fusion outfits flying below the radar. Live-Refined is the perfect entry point for a group that keeps getting better, year-after-year and album-after-album.
Personnel: Yuji Muto: guitar, left channel; Takumi Seino: guitar, right channel; Atsutomo Ishigaki: bass; Hiroshi "Gori" Matsuda: drums.