Sabu Toyozumi: Kosai Yujyo
This double album puts the spotlight on one-time AACM member, the widely-travelled veteran Japanese drummer Sabu Toyozumi, capturing him in a variety of live settings across Europe in 2010 and 2011. For its nine tracks, Toyozumi was recorded at four different venues with eight different line-ups, ranging from a duo to an octet. This variety gives the album a shifting, kaleidoscopic quality and puts the focus on a wide range of European players, painting an accurate picture of the richness and depth of the improvised music community across the continent. Although best known as a drummer and percussionist, here Toyozumi just as often plays erhu, the two-stringed, bowed instrument, sometimes called a Chinese violin (see YouTube clip, below.)
The album opens impressively in Brussels in October 2011 with the octet, in which Toyozumi plays erhu, percussion being provided by Kris Vanderstraeten of the Belgian trio Sureau. The rest of the grouping play stringed instruments---two basses, two guitars (the impressive pairing of John Russelll and Pascal Marzan) cello and pipa---constructing a dense, multi-layered soundscape in which the music ebbs and flows around between the players as they respond to each other, creating an undulating drone effect in which individual instruments occasionally bubble to the surface. Next up, in total contrast, comes a duo between erhu and the distinctive vocals of Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg, also of Sureau. As ever, Schouwburg takes centre stage, giving a performance that is theatrical and dramatic in equal measure; Toyozumi provides sympathetic accompaniment that perfectly frames the vocals, showing them off to best effect.
Shifting to Paris in September 2010, the trio of Toyozumi on erhu or drums plus Marzan on acoustic guitar, and Dan Warburton on violin or piano produce two contrasting pieces, entitled "Strongsth 1 & 2"; the first is understated and evolves slowly, with freeform percussion offsetting impressionistic guitar and violin; the second is more expansive and garrulous, with Warburton switching to piano and Toyozumi keeping things lively with a constant stream of percussive sounds that command attention. Returning to Brussels, also in September 2010, the last track on the first disc, "Unknown Sketch" marks a significant shift in mood for the album, as it and all four tracks on the second disc feature reed instruments. The track features Toyozumi on drums and Schouwburg on vocals plus Marjolaine Charbin on piano and Audrey Lauro on alto sax; the four combine well together, with the piano and saxophone impressively holding their own, resisting Schouwburg's tendency to dominate any ensemble of which he is a member.
The entire second disc dates from October 2011; it opens with three tracks from Brussels, beginning with a stunning quartet piece, "Above Nino" on which the sopranino saxophone of Jean-Jacques Duerinckx and the bass clarinet of Jacques Foschia weave around each other in a pas-de-deux, ably supported by Toyozumi on drums and Jean Demey on bass. At just under five minutes, it is all too brief, but it almost steals the album. It is rivalled by "Raw Drink," a trio piece that combines Toyozumi, bassist Joel Grip and Foschia, in a free-flowing three-way conversation dominated by the bass clarinetist. The last of the Brussels tracks is the prolonged (over 18 minutes) "Sands' Witch," a quartet featuring Lauro at length, demonstrating the variety and creativity of her alto playing.
The album is brought to a grandstand finish with the three-quarters-of-an-hour long "The Göttingen Cadenza" which brings together Toyozumionce more on erhuplus Peer Schlecta on pipe organ and Ove Volquartz on various reed instruments. The unusual instrumentation gels well as, in true cadenza fashion, all three allow their creative juices to run wild, with Volquartz in particular giving a bravura display. As an album, Kosai Yujyo is eloquent testimony both to the varied skills of Toyozumi and to the strength in depth of the European improv scene.
Tracks: Kris' Wish; The Last Feather; Strongsth 1; Strongsth 2; Unknown Sketch; Above Nino; Raw Drink; Sands' Witch; The Göttingen Cadenza.
Personnel: Sabu Toyozumi: erhu, drums, percussion; Luo Chao-Yun: pipa (1); Pascal Marzan: guitar (1, 3, 4, 8); John Russell: guitar (1); Isabelle Sainte-Rose: cello (1); Joel Grip: double bass (1, 7); Jean Demey: double bass (1, 6); Kris Vanderstraeten: percussion (1); Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg: voice (2, 5); Dan Warburton: violin, piano (3, 4); Audrey Lauro: alto saxophone (5, 8); Marjolaine Charbin: piano (5); Jean-Jacques Duerinckx: sopranino saxophone (6); Jacques Foschia: bass clarinet (6, 7); Guy Strale: percussion (8); Ove Volquartz: soprano saxophone, bass and contrabass clarinets, flute (9); Peer Schlechta: pipe organ (9).