In a departure from the archival recordings customarily offered by the NoBusiness label's Japanese Chap Chap series, Hokusai presents a meeting of minds between Swedish reedman Mats Gustafsson and veteran drummer Sabu Toyozumi, recorded live in June 2018. The 65-minute program includes a solo piece from each man but still affords over 40-minutes of the pair in tandem.
As one of the pioneers of Japanese free music Toyozumi has played with virtually everyone of note among his countrymen and touring improvisers. Indeed in 1971 the drummer became the only non-American member of Chicago's groundbreaking AACM. He brings the same appreciation of space to this date as can be heard on his splendid duet with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith on Burning Meditation (NoBusiness, 2019). But perhaps as a result of his travels and wide ranging experience he also proves at home in resolutely non-metric textural exchanges as well as more typical free jazz pulsation.
Having exploded onto the scene as one third of Scandinavian power trio The Thing, Gustafsson now leads his equally volatile Fire! and Nu ensembles. In this performance he alternates between scuttling abstractions and abrupt outbursts of the sort of visceral howls which have become his signature. Certainly as far as Gustafsson is concerned, rather than namechecking Japan's most well known artist, the 19th century master Hokusai, Francis Bacon, an icon of post- war art might be more appropriate, with his murky smeared figures and screaming Popes. That's to say it is difficult not to impute an emotional dimension to Gustafsson's vocalized wailing, one which suggests inchoate rage and despair.
An early entry among the standout moments arrives near the beginning of the opening "Sunflower," during a sudden crescendo when the saxophonist's percussive plosives and the drummer's reiterated patterns spark in electrifying synergy. Toyozumi's unaccompanied outing on "Red View Of Mount Fuji" constitutes another highlight as he fashions a demonstrative exhibition from blizzards of cymbals and tumbling drum strokes in speech-like phrases. Similarly memorable is the sequence towards the end of the final "For Ever-Advancing Artistry" when huge waves of primal screeches repeatedly break on the jagged hard shore of Toyozumi's drums.
With two very distinctive personalities at play, this album acts as a fascinating reminder of the potency of improvised music.
Sunflower; Woman with A Cat; Manga By Hokusai; Red View Of Mt. Fuji; For Ever-Advancing Artistry.