Friday, October 28, 2016

Masahiko Sato & Yosuke Yamashita - 1973 - Piano Duo

Masahiko Sato & Yosuke Yamashita
Piano Duo

01. Piano Duo Part I (22:10)
02. Piano Duo Part II (18:30)

Masahiko Sato: piano (right channel)
Yosuke Yamashita: piano (left channel)

Recorded live at Asahi Seimei Hall, Tokyo, December 25, 1973

Yamashita studied piano as a child and has played professionally since the age of 17. He attended Kunitachi College of Music in Tokyo from 1962-1967 and played for a time with saxophonist Sadao Watanabe. Yamashita formed a bassless trio in 1969; his Bill Evans-influenced style expanded to include free jazz, a rather radical step given the conservatism of the Japanese jazz scene at the time. Beginning in the '70s, his trio toured widely and played many major European events, including the Berlin and Montreux jazz festivals. Yamashita's U.S. debut was at the 1979 Newport Jazz Festival; he also recorded with members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago around that time. In the '80s, Yamashita began playing frequent solo concerts. He also branched out stylistically, playing with Japanese and Korean percussionists and incorporating adaptations of classical works into his repertoire. Yamashita has worked with many internationally famous artists, including Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Bill Laswell, Mal Waldron, and Lester Bowie. In 1985, he made the first of what would come to be annual appearances at Sweet Basil night club in New York. He formed an "American" trio with bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Pheeroan akLaff; the group became his primary performing unit when in the States. In the '90s, Yamashita recorded several albums for Verve; in 1994, he played solo at the label's 50th anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall. Yamashita has recorded more than 40 albums. He's also an accomplished essayist, having written several books.

Born in Tokyo, in 1941, Masahiko Satoh's earliest influences came from Olivier Messiaen and Yuji Takahashi, although the pianist earned his living playing in various jazz combos in Japan, Europe and the USA throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s. Between 1966 and '68, the young Satoh studied at California's Berkeley Music School, after which his trio won the prestigious 1969 Swing Journal Award for their debut album PALLADIUM. Soon after, Satoh composed the ELECTRUM material for Ishikawa's Count Buffaloes, then arranged and played piano on the Columbia Records LP PERSPECTIVE by the ever experimental Toshiyuki Miyami & the New Herd Orchestra. For his next trio LP DEFORMATION, recorded in concert at Tokyo's Sankei Hall, Satoh asked his musicians to respond to a reel-to-reel tape recorder playing segments of the New Herd's woodwind section, and things started to get interesting. A pure solo jazz LP HOLOGRAPHY came next, but the arrival of German jazz guitarist Attila Zoller, in summer 1970, brought an entirely fresh perspective to Satoh's work. In truth, the resulting Zoller/Satoh pure-jazz collaboration LP DUOLOGUE is outside the parameters of this book, but it was Zoller's tales of German musicians' determination to add uniquely German elements into their progressive jazz scene that opened Satoh's mind to the idea of incorporating purely Japanese elements in his music.

Satoh's opportunity to create a 'uniquely Japanese' jazz came at the beginning of 1971, when he was commissioned by Columbia Records to write a futuristic work for the 24-year-old percussion prodigy Stomu Yamashita, then already over a decade into his career as a soloist. Yamashita had long been hailed as the 'world's greatest percussionist' by such esteemed figures as John Cage and Aram Khatchaturian; his early works were stunning fundamentalist broadsides of gagaku and other Japanese-based ritualistic percussion epics. His dynamic and extrovert showmanship, long hair waving and capes flaring, had brought such excitement to his performances that composers Toru Takemitsu, Hans Werner Henze and Peter Maxwell-Davies had already composed long percussion pieces especially for the young Japanese. Masahiko Satoh's piece for Stomu Yamashita took its cue from the orchestral arrangements composed the previous year for the New Herd Orchestra, and seventeen of those same New Herd musicians were invited to perform the epic work. Entitled METEMPSYCHOSIS, the composition was recorded in one single session on 27th January 1971, and was an avant-garde masterpiece of barely controlled cosmic chao, featuring an outrageous wind section comprised of four trumpeters, four trombonists, four sax players and a bassoonist. Stomu Yamashita and New Herd drummer Yoshisaburo Toyozumi rumbled and raged across Satoh's two side-long pieces, creating a music that was way beyond jazz and approached a kind of Godhead union between Sun Ra and the Cosmic Jokers. Its incredible artistic success so inspired Yamashita that he next asked Masahiko Satoh to create a similar work for a far-smaller ensemble. Hitting his stride, Satoh then enlisted the aid of Taj Mahal Travellers' leader and master improviser Takehisa Kosugi, over whose swaying and heavily FX'd violin, Satoh laid droning, atonal Yamaha organ. The ensemble was completed by percussionist Hideakira Sakurai, whose Japanese percussion, shamisen and koto united with Yamashita's own arsenal of percussion to create the massive hallucinatory piece later released as the London Records LP SUNRISE FROM WEST SEA LIVE and credited to Stomu Yamashita & the Horizon.

This was the uniquely Japanese music that Satoh had for so long been threatening, and he immediately set about the task of creating his own similar ensemble. Satoh contacted his producer friend and Polydor Records label boss Ikuzo Orita, who agreed to record and release whatever the composer wished. So inspired was Satoh that, less than one week later, he was ensconced in Polydor Studio 1 with his trio drummer Masahiko Togashi and three percussionists, Joe Mizuki, Hozumi Tanaka and Isamu Harada, all of whom had backgrounds in gagaku ritual. Naming this scratch quintet Epos, Satoh recorded over the course of just one day a huge three-part quadraphonic percussion album entitled ETERNITY. Clearly inspired by Kosugi's own Taj Mahal Travellers, and subtitled '4Ch Niyoru Dagakki to Okesutora No Tameno Konpojishon' (Composition for Percussion & Orchestra in Quadraphonic), ETERNITY was an alienated and epic avant-garde wash of empty space music.

Polydor label boss Orita now believed that it was the turn of 'super session' guitar gunslinger Kimio Mizutani to make his own album, and so the producer sought the aid of both Masahiko Satoh's keyboard-playing and compositional skills, in order to create a Japanese equivalent of Frank Zappa's HOT RATS. Unfortunately, while the results were indeed charming, Mizutani's A PATH THROUGH HAZE suffered from an over-compressed mix and too many restrained performances from Mizutani himself, who clearly felt out of his depth surrounded by so many much older jazz heavy-weights. Furthermore, the Satoh-composed title track was a meek affair that disappointed its composer so much that he decided to re-record it with his old German guitarist friend Attila Zoller. The resulting album, confusingly also entitled A PATH THROUGH HAZE, was once again comprised of orthodox jazz material that lies entirely outside the realms of this book save for its sublime title track, which was a quarter-of-an-hour-long tour de force.

Next came Satoh's most legendary album AMALGAMATION. Released in mid-1971, it seems most likely that Masahiko Satoh's primary inspiration for the album's recording was his Tokyo collaboration with German pianist Wolfgang Dauner on the duet LP PIANOLOGY. Dauner had long been experimenting with ring-modulated Hohner clavinets and pianos, the results of which were best seen on his albums FREE ACTION, FÜR and OUTPUT on Germany's ECM Records.

After the heavy drum-centred nirvana of AMALGAMATION, Masahiko Satoh decided to retain the same formula for his 1972 album YAMATAI-FU, on which he collaborated with band leader Toshiyuki Miyami and his New Herd Orchestra. Unable to summon the return of Louis Hayes for the recording, but still demanding exhausting drum workouts to propel the new piece along, Satoh was forced to make huge demands of his own trio drummer Masaru Hiromi, around whom Satoh composed blasts of atonal yet euphoric brass sections to create a mighty work that was, arguably, even greater than its predecessor. Over three simply titled works of kosmische chaos, 'Ichi' (First), 'Ni' (Second) and 'San' (Third), drummer Togashi unleashed a fury worthy of John Coltrane's own Philly Joe Jones. By 1973, Satoh had established a new highly experimental trio named Garandoh, with former Epos percussionist Hozumi Tanaka and electric cellist Keiki Midorikawa. This trio performed at the 1973 jazz festival 'Inspiration & Power', and appeared on its wonderful accompanying double-LP of the same name. Unfortunately, Satoh's work thereafter drifted inexorably back into orthodox jazz, and his post-l973 records are of little appeal to non-jazz fans.



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