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Jazzanese: Kitsune & Kioku


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Billy Fox Kitsune Ensemble
Kaidan Suite
Gozen Reiji Records

Both Far and Near
Quiet Design

Two recent albums combine American and Japanese mentalities. Billy Fox' Kaidan Suite follows the form of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, an Edo period exercise, where participants tell tales that gradually increase in fright, by candlelight. The Kitsune Ensemble, featured on the album, doesn't include a single Japanese instrument. Instead, flute, clarinet, cello, piano, vibraphone, bass, drums and percussion — with Fox content to remain as composer, only playing percussion on one track — don an Asian persona, creating the harmonic and melodic sounds of Japanese storytelling.

It begins lightly, with the first tracks named for nature's pleasantries like "Wife's Garden and "Fallen Leaves . John Savage and Gary Pickard trade agreeable lines on their flute and clarinet respectively, with Tim Collins on vibraphone and Christopher Hoffman on cello joining in. The result is too expected, perfect for dining at Chang's No. 1 Buffet though the minimalist vibes, perpetually recurrent, underlie the melody in an interesting way, representing the constant rhythm of life and setting a theme that recurs with a darkened edge later in the album. A strong sense of atmosphere results from the juxtaposition of richly textured melodies filled out by Fox' percussion and sparse moments where one or two instruments mingle with silence. Well-defined interactions and solos by Savage especially, on "Yabou for example, contribute greatly to the virtuosic element of the album. Before long, "Dark Clouds roll in and a sadness pervades. Deep cello lines and alarming sounds created by horns and percussion develop Kaidan Suite's most interesting parts like "Kui and "Shizumarikaetta Ie . Once you get past the initial cliché, it's a well done example of jazz through a Japanese filter.

In contrast to the narrative, composed Kaidan Suite, Kioku's new album Both Far and Near is fiercely aggressive in its crusade for a powerful, liberated music that takes the great tradition of free jazz and steeps it in Japanese spirituality. Combining Taiko drum (Wynn Yamami), a massive instrument initially used on the battlefield, with saxophone (Ali Sakkal), electronics (Christopher Ariza) and other percussion, the trio immediately gives off a sense of outrageous liberation. Track one, "Pinari , is an adaptation of a Korean prayer song. The tune's tribal drumming pokes through long, abrasive saxophone lines while reverberating steel washes over it and electronics sweep the area clear with warped bursts. The group takes on John Coltrane's "The Drum Thing , interpreting Elvin Jones with meditative reverence. Percussion and electronics wrap gently around Sakkal's saxophone before embarking on their own textured, rhythmic venture. "Binalig features a mesh of gongs, hollow percussive sounds and the muffled chaos of a crowd, resulting in a brilliant track where fantastical rhythm dances with reality and atmosphere moves from frenzied turmoil to moody serenity. At times incredibly tribal, or futuristic, Both Far and Near takes an ancient tradition and infuses it with vast doses of the new.

Tracks and Personnel

Kaidan Suite

Tracks: Anohito No Teien (The Wife's Garden); Ochiba (Fallen Leaves); Kigi No Kage (Silhouette of Trees); Tarekomeru Annu (Dark Clouds)...Reiu (Cold Rain); Michi (The Path); Yabon (Ambition); Koroshi (Murder); Shizumarikaetta Ie (Lonely House); Kui (Regret); Sasayaki (Whisper); Omoigakenai Mono No Kikan (Strange Return); Anata (Darling); Saigo No Honon (The Last Flame).

Personnel: John Savage: flute; Gary Pickard: clarinet, bass clarinet; Christopher Hoffman: cello; Yayoi Ikawa: piano; Tim Collins: vibrophone; Yoshi Waki: bass (tracks 2,3,5,6,8); Yasushi Nakamura: bass (tracks 4,7,9,11,12,13); Arei Sekiguchi: drums, percussions; Billy Fox: percussion (track 10).

Both Far and Near

Tracks: Pinari; Yatai Bayashi; The Drum Thing; Binalig; Miyake; Spirits 16.

Personnel: Wynn Yamami: taiko and percussion; Christopher Ariza: live electronics; Ali Sakkal: saxophones.

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