From Fluxus and performance-art pioneer and Two Virgins
to chart-topping dance-music heroine (inspiring punk rock along the way!), Yoko Ono has been an innovative and influential force on music and art, while simultaneously campaigning for peace on the world's stage. At 76 years young, Yoko continues to kick ass -- and is preparing to release Between My Head and the Sky
, a career-defining album made with her new Plastic Ono Band. The record is a gorgeous, mind-melting blend of styles, restating and sharpening themes while plunging into the always-mysterious future.
The sessions happened at NYC's Sear Sound, the same studio that used to house the old Hit Factory, where Double Fantasy was recorded. Sean Lennon both produced with Yoko and acted as musical leader for a group evenly divided between Japanese avant pop musicians, and downtown Manhattan improvisers. In the Japanese contingent is Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto, plus the current group led by Keigo Cornelius" Oyamada, which includes Yuko Araki and Hirotaka Shimmy Shimizu. Cornelius and Ms. Ono performed together in Tokyo in January, and Yoko was so happy with the result she invited them over to record. In the Manhattan improv camp we find Shahzad Ismaily (guitar, bass, percussion), Erik Friedlander (cello), Michael Leonhart (trumpet, vibes), Daniel Carter (reeds) and Indigo Street (guitar) -- a singularly gifted group of instrumentalists.
As Sean says, Yoko unleashed a deluge of new songs, writing about 16 songs in six days. The most prolific day peaking out at six songs written and tracked in an afternoon. The recording session was like a tornado of inspiration. Some of the best lyrics on the record Yoko actually 'freestyled' as if she were a lyrical divining rod."
The results are amazing. The opening track, Waiting for the D Train" is a raw, gorgeous rocker in the classic Plastic Ono Band style, with orgone guitar bursts opening the way for a wild cascade of vocals. The following track, The Sun Is Down!" is a softly charming cord of electronic pulse-glimmers intertwined with casually ecstatic vocal inventions. The third track, Ask the Elephant!" has the feel of a dark, smoky room, late at night, with the musicians holding the edges of an avant groove while Yoko improvises over them. Between My Head and the Sky fluctuates between these styes, and variations thereon, in a very organic way, adding pieces and removing them with a master artist's logic.
The lyrically elegiac feel suffusing this album is especially evident on the last three songs - Unun. To," I'm Going Away Smiling" and Higa Noboru" - two of which are sung partly in Japanese. But Ms. Ono takes a variety of textual approaches, and they are brilliantly matched by the ensemble. While each of Yoko's individual stylestreams will have its proponents, it's hard to imagine a more beautifully balanced collection of work by one of contemporary culture's reigning geniuses.