Now that microtonal improv intermingled with electronics has gained some sort of acceptance, the new challenge is to extend this sort of usually solo and duo experimentation to larger formations.
Both the six players on ATAMI work out strategies to finesse this challenge. Each tries something different, but all depend on the listener being prepared to accept silences, static and split-second smears as proper sound derivations.
ATAMI mixes three from Tokyo -- Masahiko Okura on alto saxophone and bass tube, Masafumi Ezaki on trumpet and Taku Unami playing lapsteel and laptop -- with three from Barcelona: trumpeter Ruth Barberán, accordionist Alfredo Costa Monteiro and Ferran Fages on feedback mixing board and pick ups. They perform seven improvisations of about five to more than 10 minutes each.
Over in Barcelona, where ATAMI was recorded, the only vocalizing comes from the horns, which attain even greater prominence in a sextet. Among the standouts are the basso, near didjeridoo tones of Okura’s bass tube, which he has displayed solo and a group with Tetuzi Akiyama’s turntables. On alto saxophone Okurae not only surmounts the static crackle of the laptop and mixing board with reed French kisses, but also uses false fingering and flutter tonguing to create vibrations through his body tube.
Rolling sibilant respiration, split second squeaks and resonating quacks from the brass players are also notable. But that’s not surprising for the committed trumpet experimentalists. Ezaki, has recorded in duo with Unami and adding Onkyo guitarist Taku Sugimoto in trio formation, while Barberán regularly focuses on free improvisation in duos with either Fages or Portuguese-born Costa Monteiro and a trio with both.
On the first track and many others the meiosis of accordion movement, lapsteel scratches and mixing board spinning transforms static and crackle from background into something greater. “Atami 6” finds the airy brass buzzes and reed key pops split by machine-like mixing board tones and metallic gear-stripping noises that are probably laptop treatments. Aviary chirps and shallow breaths escape from the horns, as meandering wood-rending scrapes are propelled by the accordion.
Barberán and Ezaki are evidentially arrayed in different directions on “Atami 5”. Before one trumpeter suctions sound from his or her mouthpiece, the other flutters out elongated tones, followed by the first biting off curt, chromatic growls. Faux percussion is on exhibit again as the tactile instruments create rapid scampering animal sounds with just a touch of reverberated oscillations. Purring brassy horn lines mesh with smeared alto sax vibrations. Then, as what seems to be a mallet is dashed against a reverberating surface, kazoo-like timbres are succeeded by a protracted, subterranean bass tube growl.
In other spots, dense stillness is first interrupted by prismatic mouth sounds and cricket-like mutterings. Eventually laptop and mixing board sine waves are succeeded by penetrating breaths forced through trumpet bells, intermittent respiration of pure air through the saxophone’s bodytube and the silent fingering of keys and studs without bellow movement from the accordion.
Ken Waxman, Jazzword reviews
Atami was recorded in Barcelona in October 2002, during a hectic European tour for Unami, trumpeter Masafumi Ezaki and saxophonist Masahiko Okura, and teams the Japanese trio up with the locals, in the form of trumpeter Ruth Barberán, accordionist Alfredo Costa Monteiro and no-input mixing board operator Ferran Fages (these latter two also known as Cremaster). David Casamitjana's close-miked recording catches every creak, plop and fizz of the encounter, from Okura's draughty plumbing to the wheeze of Costa Monteiro's accordion. While the sounds on offer throughout are indeed intriguing, there's a certain two-dimensionality and naiveté to the music - Tomoya Izumi's cartoon squiggle cover art is most appropriate. Whereas several notable earlier onkyo outings managed to create an extraordinary sense of quiet intensity (thinking of Sugimoto and Akiyama's solo albums, Toshi Nakamura's Weather Sky with Keith Rowe and Siphono with Bruno Meillier), recent releases seem to confirm that the stylistic conventions associated with the so-called reductionist trend seem to have frozen into something resembling "accepted performance practice". The rules of the game are relatively simple: dynamics remain low (occasional isolated blasts are permitted but not too often); sounds should be as abstract as possible (anything resembling a clear statement of a recognisable pitch is avoided in favour of grainy noise); ensemble playing is a question of simultaneity rather than interaction. Atami is quite dense, texturally - there's relatively little silence to counterpoint the sound events - but otherwise it proceeds according to the rules.
Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantique