Saturday, April 28, 2018

Maru Sankaku Shikaku - 1973 - Maru Sankaku Shikaku (Circle Triangle Square)

Maru Sankaku Shikaku 
Maru Sankaku Shikaku (Circle Triangle Square)

01. Circle One 17:11
02. Circle Two 16:50
03. Triangle One 17:05
04. Triangle Two 14:19
05. Square One 16:54
06. Square Two 14:17

Bonus on 4cd version:
07. Four One 14:26
08. Four Two 14:09
09. Five One 10:07
10. Five Two 10:00

Sakuro "Kant" Watanabe
Kohji "Tohchan" Miura
Etsuko "Manager" Watanabe
Yoshiyuki Hida

Long dormant artifacts from the halcyon days of Seventies Japanese trippy hippy psychedelia, three albums recorded by a group of travelling troubadours Maru Sankaku Shikaku have been bundled into a big set and made available to interested folks beyond the shores of Nippon. Led by Sakuro “Kant” Watanabe, the band travelled around Japan in the early 1970s performing publicly as street performers and dossing down in sleeping bags and tents where need be.

The three discs convey the impression of long shamanistic rituals in which free-form and improvised music dominates. A lot of it sounds direction-less and perhaps it was intended to be. There are sometimes passages where the music seems to coalesce into something definitely rhythmic and acquires focus and purpose. In such sections, the music is surprisingly energetic and joyful, and the performers carry on and on for their lives until they’ve sucked the life out of the groove. Disc 1 in particular feels like the appetiser to the main course and dessert that will follow on succeeding discs: while certainly very active, it has the ambience of the musicians practising warm-up and preparation, and occasionally psyching themselves into their own private trances, in which they engage in mental and psychic space travel, in order to ready themselves for the main rituals. The mood is happy and exploratory, as performers experiment with various objects, some musical and others not so but pressed into service anyway, and play with them for as long as their attention is not distracted by the next toy available.

At this point it should be said that each disc, representing an individual album, is about 30 minutes long with just two tracks (each corresponding to one side of the original vinyl LP release) so it can be assumed that the music was originally intended to be continuous on each album. It could very well be that the albums are excerpts of one continuous jam session. Disc 2 begins rather alarmingly with a woman’s wordless ululations against accompanying drums and a guitar: neither instrument makes any coherent sense and both play against each other. The music is frantic with a restless animated zip: all instruments zing off at tangents and follow their individual journeys in often demented ways. Guitar especially scrabbles through a forest of blues tones and drums knock about constantly. Organ noodles and stutters about. Later a definite guitar melody develops and energy concentrates in the riffing. As on Disc 1, there is plenty of mucking about and curious experimentation for its own sake.

Disc 3 features faster, slightly more structured music as the performers get caught up in the mood of their moment and go for broke while the inspiration powers them. The singing is perhaps the most outstanding aspect here: the disc starts off with a male performer babbling away excitedly while jaunty piano follows him. The troupe is caught up in the vocalist’s mood and garbled, wordless singing continues more or less for the length of the album.

The whole set really is a musical universe unto itself; to say the performers were off with the fairies is an understatement to say the least. Probably the closest contemporary parallel would be the strange fey fairy folk ambient music scene that used to exist in Kyogle in northern New South Wales some years ago. The music takes its inspiration from free-form jazz without appearing jazzy at all. What became of the performers after they recorded their five albums is unknown but if they knew their body of musical work has survived down to the present, they would surely be overjoyed. A new generation of listeners can finally discover the performers’ strange rituals and journeys to another world for themselves.

After forty years, the music remains fresh and as loopy as it must have been at the time. My copy of the set is a digitally remastered one and the hiss and crackle of the original vinyl do not appear.

Reissue of this Japanese early '70s performance group. The group's name is literally the icons for a "circle," "triangle" and "square," with "Maru Sankaku Shikaku" substituting as a translation for those images. Circle Triangle Square were a painted bunch of commune rockers and percussion tribe second to none, whose random bells, flute and remedial tea-tray flailings were still more like the Godz or Nihilist Spasm Band than the deep theta-space obliterations of Taj Mahal Travellers. Led by future Murahatchibu drummer Sahuro "Kant" Watanabe, CTS were part of an elite bunch of Shinjuku Futen bands who actually made it onto record. Digitally remastered. Includes a 16-page booklet with notes by band leader Sahuro "Kant" Watanabe. Contains the original LP artwork.

Reissue of this Japanese early '70s performance group. The group's name is literally the icons for a "circle," "triangle" and "square," with "Maru Sankaku Shikaku" substituting as a translation for those images. Circle Triangle Square were a painted bunch of commune rockers and percussion tribe second to none, whose random bells, flute and remedial tea-tray flailings were still more like the Godz or Nihilist Spasm Band than the deep theta-space obliterations of Taj Mahal Travellers. Led by future Murahatchibu drummer Sahuro "Kant" Watanabe, CTS were part of an elite bunch of Shinjuku Futen bands who actually made it onto record. Digitally remastered. Includes a 16-page booklet with notes by band leader Sahuro "Kant" Watanabe. Contains the original LP artwork.
"Unlikely triple CD reissue of this amazing Japanese underground obscurity: Maru Sanaku Shikaku aka Circle Triangle Square, were a radical free-improvising street theatre ensemble founded by Sakuro Watanabe in 1970 and featuring a rotating ensemble of musicians that included Reck and Chiko Hige of legendary Japanese No Wave groups 3/3 and Friction. Disregarding skill or technique, the group play extended acid jams that marry the cultic feel of classic Kraut séances with a goofy Familiar Ugly approach to joyful noise and the kind of abstruse musical strategies that would reconcile the higher-minded drone of Taj Mahal Travellers with the total musical freedom of NNCK and The Godz. It’s mind-boggling to think that these studio recordings came out in 1973 as they sound completely contemporary, taking freak folk modes and radically deconstructed rock jams and extrapolating them to the moon. There are ginchy guitar jams that come over like Tom Rapp jamming Corky’s Debt To His Father, percussion pile-ups and soft lunar ragas that are pure Tower Recordings and the kind of massively dislocated spontaneous psychedelia – complete with mind-phasing F/X and massed vocal chants – that would link them to a tradition that runs through Group Ongaku, East Bionic Symphonia, Marginal Consort et al. A phenomenal set that turns linear underground histories on their head. Highly recommended." Volcanic Tongue

Ralph Towner and Gary Burton - 1986 - Slide Show

Ralph Towner and Gary Burton 
Slide Show

01. Maelstrom 8:43
02. Vessel 5:25
03. Around The Bend 4:24
04. Blue In Green 5:19
05. Beneath An Evening Sky 6:26
06. The Donkey Jamboree 3:57
07. Continental Breakfast 3:19
08. Charlotte's Tangle 4:18
09. Innocenti 4:51

Twelve-String Guitar – Ralph Towner
Vibraphone, Marimba – Gary Burton

Digital recording, May 1985, Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg

When one thinks of pairing vibraphonist Gary Burton with another soloist, Chick Corea comes foremost to mind. Burton’s work with guitarist Ralph Towner could hardly be more different, for where the former configuration funnels into a colorful storm of activity, in the latter we find far more intimate gestures articulated in monochrome. Case in point: “Maelstrom,” which starts us on the inside, spinning on its edge like a coin teetering at the promise of rest. Towner is as delicate as ever, fitting his harmonic staircases into Burton’s Escherian architecture with ease. This piece also highlights Towner’s compositional talents, which make up eight of the album’s nine tracks (the only exception being the slice of sonic apple pie that is “Blue In Green”). Towner and Burton frequently swap roles (“Vessel” being one notable example) and do so with seamless charm. Between the waking dawn of “Innocenti,” which features a rare turn from Burton on marimba, and the flurried “Around The Bend,” there is plenty of range to delight and calm the senses in turn. In the latter vein, we have “Beneath An Evening Sky,” a canvas of hues as muted as its title would suggest. The combination of Towner’s twinkling 12-string and Burton’s “vibrant” aurora lures us into a life of fantasy, where “The Donkey Jamboree,” a jocular ditty comprised of slack guitar and marimba, gives us a taste of sand and sunlight. “Continental Breakfast” (compliments of the Hotel Hello?) keeps the energy going in a travelogue of morning train rides, while “Charlotte’s Tangle” loosens the seams of the sky above.

This follow-up to the duo’s 1975 Matchbook is every bit as lovely as its predecessor, only this time around the atmospheres are deeper, richer with detail. Worthy.

Ralph Towner - 1983 - Blue Sun

Ralph Towner
Blue Sun

01. Blue Sun 7:15
02. The Prince And The Sage 6:19
03. C.T. Kangaroo 5:34
04. Mevlana Etude 3:02
05. Wedding On The Streams 5:02
06. Shadow Fountain 6:33
07. Rumours Of Rain 11:02

Guitar, Piano, Synthesizer, French Horn, Cornet, Percussion – Ralph Towner

Recorded December 1982 at Talent Studio, Oslo

If there were ever any doubts as to Ralph Towner’s consummate abilities, though one would need to travel far to encounter them, they can only have been put to rest with the release of Blue Sun. A near highpoint in Towner’s extensive discography, it might have shared the summit of 1980’s Solo Concert were it not for a few frayed threads. Towner’s compositions are already so harmonically dense in their solo form that other instruments merely externalize what is already so internally apparent to them, so that the intimate pickings of “The Prince And The Sage,” “Mevlana Etude,” and “Wedding Of The Streams” hover most clearly before our ears. At the same time, there is something skeletal about his playing that cries for flesh. Not for want of completeness, nor out of lack, but rather through the his balance and inward posture, a flower-like duplicity that embraces both blooming and wilting in the same breath.

Among the potpourri of instruments that Towner plays here, his Prophet 5, while nostalgic, sometimes gets in the way. It seems unnecessary, and evokes more the novelty of using one when his talents on so many other acoustic options were readily available to him. These “unnatural” sounds turn a concave sound into a glaringly convex one. “C.T. Kangaroo” in particular, while playful enough, jumps out as an anomaly in the album’s otherwise majestic mood. The lack of guitar also renders it incongruous. Elsewhere, however, synth textures do blend nicely, as in the floating pianism of the opening title track, and in “Rumours Of Rain,” to which a French horn adds vocal depth. “Shadow Fountain” also makes adept use of electronic textures, bubbling like water on a sunny day.

Towner fans will want to check this one out for sure, but newbies may want to hold off.

Ralph Towner - 1980 - Solo Concert

Ralph Towner
Solo Concert

01. Spirit Lake 8:43
02. Ralph's Piano Waltz 7:04
03. Train Of Thought 5:30
04. Zoetrope 6:00
05. Nardis 5:12
06. Chelsea Courtyard 6:53
07. Timeless 4:54

Guitar [12 String And Classical] – Ralph Towner

Recorded October 1979 during concerts in München (Amerika Haus) and Zürich (Limmathaus)

Ralph Towner’s Solo Concert holds a special place in my ECM-adoring heart, for it was my introduction to a guitarist whose skills have since become staples of my listening life. Lovingly recorded in the open concert spaces of Munich and Zurich, Solo Concert is to the guitar what Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert is to the piano. It’s that good.

Towner’s own compositions make up the bulk of the album. The opening “Spirit Lake” is the most transcendent of these and exemplifies Towner’s craft as both technician and melodic wellspring. Notes drip from his 12-string with shimmering lucidity, dipping below every motif it can swing from as it blossoms into a brilliant flourish of an ending. What at first seems an abstract improvisational exercise in “Train Of Thought” reveals the instrument’s hidden voices, in which a pulsing bass lingers and harmonic clusters soar. The staggered melodies and banjo-like articulations of “Zoetrope” contrast superbly with “Chelsea Courtyard,” in which dissonant arpeggios lie in the grass, above which the clouds are so thin they’re barely visible, and motivations even more so. Still, the music offers more than enough provocation as nostalgias flit by the windows of our attention, the curtains of which Towner opens to let in the light of a half-remembered day.

Towner also lays his hands on a pocketful of sparkling covers. Of these, the two by John Abercrombie—“Ralph’s Piano Waltz” and “Timeless”—are notable for their use of thumbed anchors, which provide a ghostly counterpoint to wider runs in the upper registers. Lilting syncopations trade places with jazzier throwbacks, packing melodic energy into increasingly compact cells. Yet it is with “Nardis” (Davis/Evans) that Towner truly enthralls. Played on classical guitar, it is a vivid standout that jumps headfirst into its themes before unraveling them in a blissful wave. Towner’s deft harmonies and prowess at the fingerboard leap with the precision of synchronized swimmers about to clinch a gold.

This is an intelligently assembled program of complementary music that shows the depth and breadth of Towner’s abilities more than any single disc. My only complaint is the applause that breaks the spell of every piece when it ends. Then again, I’d have done the same had I been there.

If you’ve ever wondered just how high a guitar can fly, then here’s your plane ticket.

Ralph Towner - 1979 - Old Friends, New Friends

Ralph Towner 
Old Friends, New Friends

01. New Moon 7:22
02. Yesterday And Long Ago 7:46
03. Celeste 4:43
04. Special Delivery 7:00
05. Kupala 8:01
06. Beneath The Evening Sky 7:02

Bass – Eddie Gomez
Cello – David Darling
Drums, Percussion – Michael Di Pasqua
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Kenny Wheeler
Twelve-String Guitar, Classical Guitar, Piano, French Horn – Ralph Towner

Recorded July 1979 at Talent Studio, Oslo.

This set of six extended pieces—each penned by Ralph Towner—is like the flipside of his classic Solstice. From the moment we step into its sound-world with the resplendent 12-string of “New Moon,” we know this will be a path from which we may never wish to stray. Towner’s unexpected French horn adds shading and depth to his already gossamer billows, leaving the fluegelhorn of Kenny Wheeler to snake through Michael DiPasqua’s lucid drumming as the unmistakable cello stylings of David Darling arise from the depths of our expectations. Darling, a personal favorite among ECM-represented artists, proves to be a welcome, if nearly ineffable, presence. One hears shades of his classic Darkwood unfolding like a meandering dream in “Yesterday And Long Ago,” while “Beneath An Evening Sky” weaves twelve strings through six over his ornamental crosshatchings.

Not unlike the album as a whole, “Celeste” forges an uplifting sort of melancholy, heard in Towner’s heartwarming pianism and in Wheeler’s boldly sketched lines. Moments of sheer majesty quickly succumb to underlying reveries, awaiting the “Special Delivery” of Eddie Gomez’s vocally infused commentary. This leaves only “Kupala,” which shows off Towner’s fine muting technique, brushed drums adding a touch of age. Running his fingernails along the edge of this sonic quarter, Towner opens the floor to a magic that only the listener can supply.

I know it’s nothing new to say, but albums like this always put me in awe of jazz, an art form in which a musician can surrender oneself so freely to the musical moment and yet just as easily anchor oneself in explicitly composed material. Likewise, Towner’s music, and especially that collected here, is something into which one can read experiences that are at once rooted in the physical world and firmly bound to a realm where physicality is a myth. Like its own mythology, it is creation and dissolution made one. It ends in a slow fall, laying itself down like a flower upon its own grave.

Ralph Towner, Eddie Gomez, Jack DeJohnette - 1978 - Batik

Ralph Towner, Eddie Gomez, Jack DeJohnette

01. Waterwheel 9:20
02. Shades Of Sutton' Hoo 4:34
03. Trellis 8:18
04. Batik 16:17
05. Green Room 6:16

Bass – Eddie Gomez
Drums – Jack DeJohnette
Twelve-String Guitar [12 String Guitar], Classical Guitar, Piano – Ralph Towner

Recorded January 1978 at Talent Studio, Oslo

There are certain images that seem fail-proof when musically evoked. The “Waterwheel” that inaugurates us into guitarist Ralph Towner’s astonishingly beautiful Batik is one of them. Having since been painted for us by such varied talents as Hamza El Din (see the Kronos Quartet’s Pieces of Africa) and Marina Belica (former leader of the October Project, of which their self-titled debut is a personal all-time favorite), Towner’s particular configuration embodies the best of all worlds with the precision of his fingers magnified to great effect by Jack DeJohnette on drums and soothingly animated by the bass of Eddie Gomez. Towner’s democratic shifts in density allow for solos to shine through the haze unhindered, such as the enchanting bass that darts through his added splashes of 12-string. Towner rejoins in overdubbed costume, while amplified sustains peek like the sun from behind a cloud. Their passage through the sky is marked only by DeJohnette’s delicate metronome, allowing us one final glimpse of its thematic pool. “Shades of Sutton Hoo” is named for an Anglo-Saxon burial ground and haunts us with its reverberant lows and tinkling cymbals. A noticeably freer structure pervades, tracing every mound of earth with archaeological care. This delicate filler leads us up a “Trellis” of melody into ghostly afterthoughts. Gomez’s voice cuts with urgency through Towner’s ornamental stride. Their sumptuous counterpoint continues in the 16-minute title track and sets us down comfortably in Solstice territory. DeJohnette unleashes a noteworthy solo, while Gomez laces his quick fingers to support every hoisted footstep. We end in the “Green Room.” Painted with Towner’s mournful piano, it glows in a wash of potent commentary from bass and brushed drums, crumbling like spring snow into silence.

A classic to the nth degree.