Nakatani-Chen Duo: Limn (2006)
One of the highlights of the Vision Club series in 2005 was a crowd-pleasing duet set with legendary violinist Billy Bang and the brilliant percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani. With a lesser drummer, this might've been a case of star-player-with-accompaniment, but that was far from what happened. Nakatani was more than up for his share of the spotlight, putting on a thrilling show of technique and artistry.
Some of what makes Nakatani so exciting live is, naturally, lost in recordings, but there's plenty still to be gleaned from this release with cellist/vocalist Audrey Chen (also featuring special guest Susan Alcorn on pedal steel guitar). At the Vision Club, Nakatani showed his command of the full range of drumming and percussion experimentation. On Limn he sticks closer to the latter, an appropriate choice for the context. Anyone wanting to possess a full aquaintance with experimental percussion needs to give Nakatani a listen. Some of the techniques he pioneeredusing shards of cymbals to scrape across drumheads, playing bells and metal bowls on the kit, etc.are becoming standard fare in the underground scene, but few players do these sorts of things as well.
Experimental vocalists are courageous, exposing themselves more personally than instrumentalists and having to dig deeper and take more risks to find new sounds. It can be uncomfortable to hear a vocalist go into this uncharted territory (some non-fans might feel it should remain uncharted), but once the voyage has begun, it's best to hoist the sails and let go with abandonand that's what Chen does. She's fully committed to producing unfettered, unapologetic howling, grunting, simian screeching and all other possibilities from her vocal chords.
I once impulsively bought a Diamanda Galas CD and brought it home, hoping to hear some mildly exotic singing. Instead, the iconoclastic former opera star simply began to shriek at top force for nearly the entire length of the recording. It was totally invigorating, but only once. Chen touches on that sort of thing without lingering too long there, and in this context her more abrasive work is softened considerably. Still, very few listeners will find this disc easy to handle, especially upon repeat spins. But those who crave the outer limits may well find their holy grail in Limn.
Track Listing: Many Arms; Owl Monkey; Trilling; Thumb and Heel; Eating a Volcano; Finch; Bulk Flow; Dragon's Den; Liplash; Zipped; From the Ends; Sprawl; Kestrel Beating; 4000 Miles; Bivouac.
Personnel: Tatsuya Nakatani: percussion; Audrey Chen: cello, vocals; Susan Alcorn: pedal steel guitar.