Live concerts strive for a transcendent quality that can never be translated into CD form. This is especially true for free improvisation, and In the Tank
is archetypical of this fact. Natsuki Tamura (trumpet), Elliott Sharp (soprano sax and guitar), Takayuki Kato (guitar) and Satoko Fujii (piano) recorded this concert in 2001 in Japan. The uncomfortable stillness of the record begs the question: who went to this concert, and was it worth it? In the Tank
is often hazy, incoherent, chaotic and aimlessall the things (and more) that are really best understood when the musicians are right in front of you. Often during a live concert, the musicians' facial expressions, the frustration in their creased brows, the fumbling fingers struggling to let the notes flow, and the shared glances are even more important to the music than the notes themselves.
Because In the Tank
falls under the category of a live recording as well as an avant-garde project, it has a natural inclination to leave its listener in the dark. Moreover, with no drummer present, it is difficult to grasp the themes and goals being sought by the quartet. Yet, once you latch on to the periodic beat of the gonging bells in "Crowing Crab or the steadying hand on the piano harmonies in "Flying Jellyfish, the musicians' strategies start to emerge. Actually, their ideas are more like quicksandevery time you manage to figure out what the ensemble is trying to do, they sink back into their hidden recesses, leaving you in limbo.
The recording consists mostly of bizarre noises that often reverberate throughout, presenting themselves in different textures. Coins and other unknown objects clang to the floor, and metal springs are snapped back like rubber bands. Strange, mysterious electric drips and drops permeate through the quicksand, while a plucked guitar (Sharp/Kato) and a tinny saxophone (Sharp) give the music momentary stability. Still, the quicksand submerges in itself again, and the noise comes back. The noise is quiet, far into the distance, but it's there and it stands out even more than Fujii's swaggering piano chords and Tamura's whining trumpet vibrato.
Perhaps the album cover best conveys the texture of the recording: a pair of cartoon characters stare at a giant discolored shrimp lying in a white, plastic tub with a tarot card off in the corner. Like the cover, the music is surreal and unsettling. And no matter how hard you look, you will never figure out how or why the shrimp is in that tub.
Walking Squid; Flying Jellyfish; Sinking Shrimp; Crowing Crab.
Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Elliott Sharp: soprano saxophone, guitar; Takayuki Kato: guitar; Satoko Fujii: piano.