Tel Aviv, Israel
June 25, 2006
"You can not survive playing like Yoshida for long," Israeli saxophonist Albert Beger told me while watching the first few minutes of Japanese drummer Tatsuya Yoshida's solo concert, "Ruins Alone." But Yoshida, the founder of the seminal avant duo the Ruins and a close collaborator with other iconoclasts, such as Japanese multi-instrumentalist Keiji Haino, saxophonist John Zorn (in his Painkiller trio), Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi (in his now-defunct Slash Trio) and Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii (in her quartet and as a duo), and lately with pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, showed no signs of collapsing.
Yoshida is indeed a force of nature. He plays harder and faster than any drummer, or, thinking again, any improvising musician that I have seen, and he has developed a singular way of playing the drums. He races around his drum kit, never leaving his sticks and infrequently playing the cymbals, and never stops.
His drumming features an encyclopedic knowledge of the progressive rock from the late '60s and early '70s, and he can condense into a short bar quotes from the repertoires of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, King Crimson, Yes, and Gentle Giantor the veterans of the Canterbury school of progressive rock, such as his favorite drummer, Charles Hayward's band, This Heat, or the vocal styling of another favorite band of Yoshida, French drummer Christian Vander's Magma. But Yoshida spices all these influences with a sharp punky edge, boundless streams of energy, take-no-prisoners attitude and with small doses of eccentric humor. In a short interview before the concert he said that "sometimes I need four people to do all the things that I want to do."
His first performance ever of Yoshida in Tel Aviv, arranged by the small label Auris Media
, gathered 150 eager listeners, much more than any sort of like-minded local concert might attract. Yoshida began the first set with his "Ruins Alone" program, where his faithful sampler substituted the grandiose list of muscular electric bass players who assisted Yoshida to create the huge sound of The Ruins. Yoshida played for a hour short pieces from the Ruins extensive catalogue, all based on short and complex patterns on the drums, that never lock into a groove, and hardly repeats themselves, but seem to evolve in a reasoned order, as if Yoshida adds geometrical patterns to a large canvas. At first puzzling the listeners in the persistent course of his pieces, but slowly captures their admiration by his uncompromising and extreme way of playing. The absence of a bassist did not harm Yoshida playing, tough a certain wrestling dynamic of the early Ruins releases was missing, but the compacted pieces even gained symphonic dimensions while Yoshida triggered the sampler.
The second part of the concert was something completely different. Israeli pianist and composer came on stage to a set that was supposed to be a duo of Ganelin with Yoshida, but quickly was turned into a battle ground. Yoshida, still charged from the first set, soon began his speedy assault of the drums, leaving Ganelin gasping in attempt to catch up with him. Ganelin, who usually needs a lot of space- in terms of time and breadth of musical expression- lost his way in the simplified and extroverted forms of Yoshida, and tried to color Yoshida muscular drumming with otherworldly washes of his synthesizer. There was one magical moment when Yoshida began to exercise some operatic chants, and Ganelin quickly used this rare moment to develop it into an angelic song, but it lasted only for few seconds.
The last part of this concert featured Beger, who joined Yoshida and Ganelin. Beger chose not to grapple Yoshida playing but tried to mold his playing around his playing. He began with heavy blows on his tenor sax, locking with Yoshida patterns, but slowly overpowered Yoshida and pushed him to react and comment to his lines. Yoshida seemed to enjoy this game, and even showed much more restrained, and even gentle playing when Beger switched to the flute, but it was clear that he felt much more relaxed when Beger returned to the tenor sax and accelerated the speed till the final coda. Frustrated Ganelin tried to add some interesting rhythmic motifs, but it was clear that the pairing of him and Yoshida might have been challenging, provocative but certainly, not satisfying.
Visit Tatsuya Yoshida and Albert Beger on the web.