Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Ensemble - Dreams [Tzadik - 2002]Otomo Yoshihide is sometimes described as the Japanese John Zorn. This despite his most often employed instrument being the Guitar rather than the Sax. This reference probably came about due to Yoshihide’s huge array of projects, groups and range of material, much of which involves free jazz improvisation.
Yoshihide has released several other jazz albums under the moniker of his New Jazz Quintet or New Jazz Orchestra, but this is the only one credited to the New Jazz Ensemble. The ensemble is a wide mix of players from the Japanese scene and regular Yoshihide collaborators crossing over from his other groups. Sachiko M has her sine waves present on all but two tracks and vocal duties are handled mostly by Phew but Jun Togawa guests on three of the track also.
Compared to the compositions on previous Yoshihide free jazz albums the music presented here is relatively straight and melodic. Preach is the first piece, a composition by Asa-Chang and Kazumi (I must plead ignorance regarding who they are) and is a very melodic mid paced composition which begins with plucked melody from Yoshihide’s guitar before the horns and sax enter. The vocals are in Japanese so I won’t be able to tell you about the songs theme. But judging by the atmosphere of the song which is brought to the fore by some very effective synthesizer work from Tatsuki Masuko I would say it something of a melancholic love song, but then again I could be completely wrong.
Yume follows on and is shrouded in even more melody and melancholy than Preach. The sine waves of Sachiko M provide a backdrop over which trumpet, sax and horn weave subtle patterns and sweeps of melody. The vocals are almost spoken for the first five minutes but burst into jubilant harmony as the music shifts up a gear into a quite pop sounding groove. The saxophones waltzing with great lyricism as the music peaks and troughs. The sax solos at the end of the track are wonderfully atmospheric.
Both the next two track follow a similar pattern of slow build up and deep emotional melancholy. Teinen Pushiganga sees the sine waves and synthesizer play a more prominent role with the vocals of Phew hovering so effectively over the music. This track displays more of the choppy electronic interventions that Yoshihide is well know for, but it is again set against more superbly melodic sax work, augmented by occasional horn and for this track prepared acoustic guitar. Toi Hibiki is without doubt the most deranged song on the album, in fact it seems quite out of place. No melody or melancholy, here the vocalists yell into the mic as the band bump and grind behind, no obvious structure and lots of noise.
A cover of the Jim O’Rourke piece Eureka finishes the album. Yoshihide has done a gorgeous and rampaging version of this track on his debut album with the New Jazz Orchestra where the lyrics are sung in French. Here they are in Japanese and the performance is not so wide and spacious. Here the sax, horns and guitar play tightly in a fairly straight manner that has quite a lot of bluesy moments. The track breaks at around five minutes for a couple of minutes of field recordings taken from a Japanese film called Blue. The song begins again with sine waves and synth playing with contrabass and sweet suedo military drum rolls. The atmosphere get more tort and frayed as the Eureka melody reforms and the sax and drums begin driving the song forwards again. By fifteen minutes the piece has become a cacophony of noise before fading out to distorted synth and sine waves.
You wouldn’t describe Dreams as easy listening but the musicians involved here have been able to draw a truly appealing yet complex performance from a set of quite challenging compositions. A triumph among many of Yoshihide’s many quality Jazz albums.Duncan Simpson