Sunday, April 17, 2016

Bi Kyo Ran - 1997 - A Violent Music

Bi Kyo Ran 
Kyobo Na Ongaku (A Violent Music)

01. Kyobo na Machi (A Violent City)
02. Chi ni Ashi (Feet On The Ground)
03. Kyobo na Utage (A Violent Party)
04. Kyobo na Toride (A Violent Fort)
05. Higurashi Yaro (A Man Of Hand To Mouth)
06. Creep Funk
07. Kyobo na Akumu (A Violent Nightmare)

- Suma Kunio / guitar, vocal
- Saegusa Toshimasa / bass, vocal
- Shimizu Yoshiyuki / drums, vocal
- Kamiya Noriyuki / keyboards

There are portions of this record that are incredible, but overall this doesn't measure up to their first two studio albums. "A Violent Music" is an apt title for this recording as it is often very "noisy" and as victor77 says it's "hard to listen" to at times. Sometimes the drums are too upfront in the mix or they just don't sound good, and at times it's the distorted guitar that takes away the enjoyment of this record for me.
"A Violent City" hits the ground running with a lot of noise as guitar leads the way. Fortunately we get some scorching guitar melodies, and the guitar is especially good before 5 minutes in. Mellotron then floods the soundscape as xylophone, more mellotron and some blistering guitar follow. "Feet On the Ground" is difficult for me to enjoy as there is again a lot of noise.

"A Violent Party" is uptempo with fast paced vocals as the guitar grinds it out. Mellotron and drums follow before the melody from the beginning comes back but this time with xylophone. "A Violent Fort" has more mellotron and xylophone, but prior to that it's the guitar that impresses me the most 3 minutes in. "A Man Of Hand To Mouth" has processed vocals that I don't like, but I love the mellotron after 2 minutes. "Creep Funk" has some good bass and I especially like the guitar 3 1/2 minutes in. "A Violent Nightmare" features some good guitar as the band jams for a while.

Bi Kyo Ran - 1995 - Go-Un

Bi Kyo Ran 

01. Ran Part II (3:47)
02. Journey's End (7:33)
03. Omoi-Ire (8:05)
04. Psycho part II (6:57)
05. 21st Century Africa (13:13)

- Suma Kunio / guitar, vocal , conductor
- Saegusa Toshimasa / bass, synthesizer, recorder, vocal
- Suzuki Akihito / percussion, vocal
- Kageshima Shunji / drums, marimba, recorder, vocal
- Osuka Kotomi / piano, synthsizer, recorder, vocal
- Mizoguchi Kazuya / guitar
- Taguchi Masato / percussion, timpani
- Tazawa Kouji / vocal

Guest musicians:
- Negita Kouichi / trumpet on 1, 3, 5
- Sakai Tatsuya / trumpet on 1, 3, 5
- Suzuki Shingo / alto & bariton saxophone on 1, 3, 5
- Saegusa Harumi, Kashiwahara Harumi, Ishikawa Hideko / chorus on 3

 "Go Un" is a product of the new and reincarnated BI KYO RAN and is nothing short of Brilliant from my perspective. This time around although the KING CRIMSON jam parallels are definitely present (aka the Fripp-like guitar playing of Junio Suma), "Go Un" is wildly contrasted with Jazz trumpets and alto / baritone saxes, piano and loads of percussive / timpanic instrumentation, clearly creating a wonderful and unique sound experience. "Go-Un" unfolds with many different themes and moods and although is mostly instrumental, does spotlight some vocals which are performed with great delivery. On previous BI KYO RAN albums I think it is harder to pick out the Japanese musical influences which are brought out slightly more on "Go Un". Overall a tasty and highly original album with a nice variety of soundcapes which I would highly recommend as a great discovery.

Bi Kyo Ran were the Japanese equivalent of mid period King Crimson from the obvious "Larks Tongues in Aspic" copy at the beginning of their self-titled debut to one of their recently released live compilations which is all King Crimson covers. Regardless of these obvious influences, Bi Kyo Ran were still great, both their debut and second album, Parallax, are fine albums, the latter amongst the best of all 80s Japanese progressives. How Bi Kyo Ran could live with such a strong comparison is beyond me, but now the band after over a ten year hiatus have reformed with a new album and an effort to put the Crimson references to rest... well almost. The opening track, "Ran Part II," here is the only one that brings back the Crimson spirit with very angular Frippian guitar work and a flashback to the early Bi Kyo Ran sound. The rest is a mixed bag and hard to describe. Bi Kyo Ran have definitely modernized their approach, the tones have more in common with the underground Japanese scene a la God Mountain label (most of the bands on Neu Konservatiw would be decent pointers) yet not in any way industrial. Certain things annoy me about the change, the discoid female vocals on "Journey's End" remind me of bad Talking Heads and practically ruin the song. Most of the music is good though and except for the intro is practically devoid of King Crimson references and seems much more indigenously Japanese. It should be interesting to see what happens as Bi Kyo Ran evolves their new style (they have a new live album already out since this title). Certainly not as good as their first two albums, but definitely more original.

Known for years as the group that sounds more like King Crimson than King Crimson themselves, Bi Kyo Ran have reformed after many years away, in the process growing from a trio to an eight-piece of dual guitars, bass, keys, triple-percussion, and multi-voices, augmented by guests on woodwinds, brass, and chorus. Along the way they have nearly completely lost their early image as a perfect clone of 70s-Crimson. The new Bi Kyo Ran is a very adventurous unit, covering a lot of new territory, the added multi-percussion and second guitar have offered plenty of room to explore – and I expect that some looking for the band of yore will be profoundly disappointed. But progressive rock involves growth and change, and that's precisely what is offered here. Could one have expected the band to come back after twelve years (with five new members, no less) and serve up the same old dish? I think not. Not surprisingly, many of the tunes center around percussion and voice (five band members offer vocals, not counting guests), and the interplay of acoustic and electric guitars (as on the Spanish flavored "Psycho, Part II." On the other hand, the piano and synths are rarely heard. Some of the material is very quiet and subtle – and very Japanese, for example the closer "21st Century Africa," on which two kalimbas are joined by various other percussives in a lengthy intro that finally gives way to some irregularly timed rock with Fripp-oid guitar leads. This is a more subtle album, far away from their earlier in-your-face approach. It takes a few listens to grow into, but patience will reward. Welcome back!

Bi Kyo Ran - 1995 - Deep Live

Bi Kyo Ran
Deep live

01. Kyo Part 2-2 (Psycho Part 2-2)
02. Kyo Part 3 (Psycho Part 3)
03. Ran Part 2
04. Deep
05. 21 Seiki no Africa (21st Century Africa)
06. Toshi no Joukei (Vision Of The City)

- Suma Kunio / guitar, vocal, conductor
- Saegusa Toshimasa / bass, synthsizer, recorder, vocal
- Suzuki Akihito / percussion, recorder, vocal
- Kageshima Shunji / drums, marimba, recorder, vocal
- Otsuka Kotomi / piano, synthsizer, recorder, vocal
- Mochizuki Kazuya / guitar, percussion
- Taguchi Masato / percussion, timpani
- Tazawa Kouji / vocal, percussion

The word on the street is that this Japanese combo is the Far East answer to King Crimson, circa Red. Although occasional Frippisms abound in the guitar parts, I think they more closely resemble a Cuneiform outfit at times. Even so, the title track bears a slight resemblance to early Crimson (a la "Epitaph"). In all, Bi Kyo Ran is an instrumentally promising outfit that could benefit a lot from increased emotion and variety. The opening sequence, "Psycho, Parts II and III," is a bit too mechanical and academic for my tastes, with its pounding rhythmic motifs and repetitive melodies. In its favor, the album does pick up after a while, and the aforementioned "Deep" and epic-length "21st Century Africa" do pack a certain wallop. Bi Kyo Ran obviously work best on stage, and their precision and energy come through more on this album than on previous studio efforts. The Frippian guitar leads are the most impressive aspect of this band, though guitarist Kunio Suma (who writes the majority of the material) rarely reaches that climactic peak that is one of Robert Fripp's trademarks (recall "Starless" — nothing beats that). In all, Bi Kyo Ran plays a humorless, academic variation on the mid-70s Crimson sound, with artsy Cuneiformesque dissonance providing the rhythmic base. Not bad on its own merits, but don't expect to hear the mighty Crimson on this disc.

Bi Kyo Ran - 1994 - Live Volume 4 - Madoroni

Bi Kyo Ran
Live Volume 4 - Madoroni

01. The Great Deceiver
02. Book of Saturday - Fracture
03. The Night Watch
04. Exiles
05. Starless

Recorded Live by Bi Kyo Ran and Friends at somewhere in Shizuoka 1977

Bass, Vocals – Shinji Yoshinaga
Drums – Masaaki Nagasawa
Guitar, Vocals – Kunio Suma

The highly respected group Bi Kyo Ran was formed in 1974 by guitarist Kunio Suma. It was said that Bi Kyo Ran's early material resembled King Crimson, despite the fact that Suma had yet to hear their music. Truth or myth? Who knows... But come 1976, Suma had indeed come under the spell of the Crimson King; so much so that it inspired a name change to Madoromi, and a devotion to note-perfect renditions of Crimson's music. 1994's Madoromi - Live Vol. 4, recorded in 1977, is the commemoration of this project. Of course it's only in retrospect that this document has become unveiled. Certainly a whole album of covers is tricky business, for if one cannot impart some vestige of his own personality on the work, then the whole venture is merely an exercise. Anyway, they chose pieces only from Crimson's 1972-74 period, and performed them flawlessly. As expected, there are some pronunciation problems with the lyrics, and while it's not an album I'd listen to very often, it does showcase their phenomenal musical skills. To even attempt a piece like "Fracture," especially on guitar, is no laughing matter. And they nail it.

Bi Kyo Ran - 1994 - Live Volume 3 - Ran

Bi Kyo Ran 
Live Volume 3 - Ran

01. Kyo Part 1 (Psycho Part 1)
02. Keikoku (Warning)
03. Kumikyoku Ran (Suite Ran)
04. Nijuujinkaku (Double)

- Masaaki Nagasawa / drums, Solina strings, Mellotron
- Masahide Shiratori / bass, acoustic guitar
- Kunio Suma / guitar, Mellotron, vocals

This was recorded live in March,1983 at the "Bourbon House" in Osaka, Japan.This KING CRIMSON inspired trio blaze a trail of fire here but they also contrast these fiery passages with some laid back sections. Mellotron is played by two of the members here. I have to say that this "sounds" really good. The sub woofer really gets a workout with this album cranked up, and of course those angular, Fripp inspired guitar melodies are all over this recording. I love when they just jam, in fact they really stretch out these tunes as 3 of the 4 are all over 16 minutes in length.
"Psycho Part I" is the short opening tune at 3 1/2 minutes. It opens with a great sound of bass and drums while the guitar just plays along until taking the spotlight before a minute with some angular melodies. This all sounds so good. "Warning" is from their debut album and it opens with mellotron and solina strings. Vocals after a minute. I like the laid back guitar here. Mellotron continues. It kicks in after 7 minutes. Here we go ! Deep bass and angular guitar, and check out the drumming ! Sounds like vibes or some sort of percussion before 10 1/2 minutes with vocal melodies as it settles right down. Heavy drums and bass before 15 minutes, and the guitar joins in too for a killer finish. Nice.

"Suite Ran" is from their "Parallax" album. Lots of drums, bass, guitar and noise until we get a groove going after 3 minutes.This is fantastic ! Love the drums after 5 1/2 minutes as it settles somewhat. Fat bass lines here too. It settles down after 15 minutes before we get the big finish. "Double" is from their debut album. I have always liked this tune.The heaviness and bass are incredible. Vocals before a minutes.It settles before 3 minutes and mellotron rolls in a minute later.Tasteful guitar 4 1/2 minutes in. Later it gets chaotic before they jam for quite a while.

Bi Kyo Ran - 1988 - Live Volume 2 - Who Ma

Bi Kyo Ran 
Live Volume 2 - Who Ma

01. Vision of the city (10:53)
02. Psycho (part I) (3:23)
03. Who ma (10:53)
04. Stop breaking sense (9:10)
05. Improvisation (17:31)

- Takuma Amamyia / percussion
- Masaaki Nagasawa / drums
- Masahide Shiratori / bass
- Kunio Suma / guitar, vocals

This is even better than i thought it would be. These guys are great live. My version has a couple of bonus tracks that they have mixed in at songs 2 & 4. The performances on this album were taken from two shows, one in December of 1982, and the other in March of 1983. They usually have a few guests performing with them in studio, but for these live shows they just have a guest percussionist. So no mellotron this time, or horns. What we do get though is angular, Fripp-like lead guitar, along with some fantastic bass and drumming.
"Vision Of The City" is driven by these raw guitar leads throughout. Although there is a calm with some laid back guitar 2 1/2 minutes in. Vocals are present early in the song and towards the end. Some fat bass lines 10 minutes in after those cool angular guitar melodies. "Monologue" features more abrasive guitar and distortion. Vocals play a prominant role in this one though (hence the title). More deep bass lines in this one too. "Psycho (Part 1)" is an instrumental that's not as hard on the ears. The guitar is incredible a minute. Very melodic tune, and one of my favs. "Silent Running" is another great tune. Vocals come in as it settles down. The guitar grinds away 4 1/2 minutes in. Nice. Vocals are back 8 1/2 minutes in as it calms down once again. Love the way they contrast these two sectons. I really like both passages too. "Stop Breaking Sense" has a heavy sound to open with chunky bass and scorching guitar. Vocals join in as the guitar trades off with him. The bass is killer! Awesome sound before 3 minutes and 5 minutes in when the guitar lights it up both times. The bass continues to be huge. Vocals are back 7 1/2 minutes in. A calm 9 minutes in to end it. My favourite track.

"Who Ma" is the title track. It takes a while to get going but when it does the guitar makes all kinds of noise 2 1/2 minutes in. The drums are very random at this point. The guitar is grinding away at will. Once they get going this sounds incredible. Ripping guitar after 7 minutes. The calm sections are contrasted with the full passages a couple of times before it ends. "Improvisation" opens with no real melody just sounds until 2 1/2 minutes in, but even then this isn't melodic. Then the guitar starts to make some noise. This is experimental to say the least. Hey it's an improv ! We get a good melodic soundscape 7 minutes in, and for the next 6 minutes they just play. Nice.Then a calm as they stop the melody and make random sounds. He ends it with an excellent guitar solo.

I know these guys are huge fans of KING CRIMSON but I couldn't help but think of Neil Young and his raw, garage sounding guitar tone. Who needs polish when you can have this ! I should mention that I had this on at work the other day, and this young guy came in and eventually asked who was playing, then asked me to write down the bands name so he could try to find his own copy.

After a three-year period (spent mostly making demos and being discovered by King Records), Suma appeared with a new band behind him. King coaxed him into the studio, and the albums Bi Kyo Ran and Parallax resulted. Which brings us to the next (brief) period of live playing for Bi Kyo Ran: 1982-83, from which came the Who Ma - Live Vol. 2 and Ran - Live Vol. 3 recordings, released in 1988 and 1994 respectively. These spotlight the pinnacle of Bi Kyo Ran's most brutal and experimental period; a mood that is darker than Crimson, more sinister and primitive. Gone are the keys and recorders (and most of the vocals as well). Suma, guitar wailing, unabashedly leads the four-piece band (including a guest percussionist) through raucous instrumental sections in a relentless surge, as on "Stop Breaking Sense," or in impromptu works like "Improvisation" (both from Who Ma). They explore musical structures similar to those on Starless and Bible Black. This album contains all new (at the time) material, barring two bonus tracks on the CD version; while Live Vol. 3 focuses on previously-released songs. Both capture the uncompromising spirit of a band who left no stone unturned. But in 1983, Suma called it quits.

Note : the words "Who Ma" are a phonetic rendering from Japanese characters that are more commonly Romanized as "Fu Ma." They have no relation to the English words "who" or "ma".