Friday, October 17, 2008

Fragmento Mori (上)

The past four weeks have been a distillation of experience. Coming home to roost.


I've written before about Soul Flower Union. Besides their usual J-rock magic collective, they also perform in smaller, stripped down permutations. Perhaps the most interesting of these is their chindon unit, Soul Flower Mononoke Summit. The group formed in 95, playing free gigs to people living in temporary shelters after the Hanshin Earthquake. They rarely perform, but I was lucky to catch them at Taku Taku in August. The opening act was an aging acoustic blues singer, with a penchant for cups and spliffs. He seemed to have a hard time getting through his set, stopping three times midsong to begin another. Apparently this guy is pretty famous, but he seemed to have left any artistic integrity up with his guitar case. The crowd seemed amused, but I wasn't. A long half-hour.

Mononoke came on and ran through a lot of their usual tunes, though I was a little disappointed not to hear their sanshin version of "The Internationale." Playing with them was band member Itami Hideko, who now lives in Okinawa with Irish musician husband, Donal Lunny. But I most enjoyed watching Utsumi Yoko on accordian, who forewent the cliched rock star facial expressions, looking more like a typical Obasan, in kimono and hornrims. As usual, the crowd sang along. More than a few folks brought their kids, who danced on the tables to the Irish-Okinawan klezmer groove.


A month later, my friend Roger Walch played a gig at Kyoto's other historic livehouse, Jittoku, along with Shakuhachi player Taro Matsumoto. They ran through tunes from their newest CD, as a hard rain fell outside. Their soundcheck was shot by local filmmaker Alessandro and can be found here.


I too did a couple gigs, after a 2 year absence from the stage. Back in June I hooked up with Morphic Jukebox, a local unit who has been getting a fair amount of positive press over the past year. They had hoped to bulk up their sound with percussion, which is where I came in. I created a 'drumkit' of congas, bongos, cajon, and cymbals, backing both originals and covers of Dylan, Beatles, Paul Weller, and various old blues standards. My first gig with them was played at Pig and Whistle, and an unfortunate opening act of a Kiwi-Aussie rugby match. Our audience consisted of a group of very large, very bald men, half of whom were due to be unhappy with the match's outcome. But the gig came off well. Two Saturdays later, we played at McLoughlins, as a release party for a CD the group recorded before I joined. The crowd was homegrown, brought in mainly by word-of-mouth. (A review can be found here.) The other band members were happy with the gig, but I felt that we never really gelled as a group. Our previous show came together better musically. (Somewhat inevitably, the band and I parted ways amicably last week, due to my other time commitments.)


The same weekend as the McLoughlin gig, I went up to the 'Nog to do a memorial service for Ken. It was my third visit since I moved to the Kyo in '06, and the first one that was actually enjoyable. (The other two were very emotionally exhausting and more about 'family business.') Tim dragged me off to Matsue to take part in an Irish music session. There was Irish guitarist, a Welsh fiddle player , plus a dozen Japanese on their forest of tin flutes. One young Japanese guy kept a beat on the bodhran, though he couldn't seem to get away from a single rudimentary rhythm. I created flourishes on another bodhran. Since I'm not very proficient on the thing, I decided to play with my thumb and pinkie in lieu of using a beater. Getting past this technical hurdle gave me the freedom to really swing. Midway through the night, a middle-aged Japanese man joined in on the piano. He was amazing, familiar with every tune that came up. Most incredible was his banging out the honky-tonk piano parts of The Beatles, "Lady Madonna." I talked with him a long while, intrigued at his job as Professor of Japanese Folklore. When I asked him why he was so interested in Irish music, he told me it was because he was part Irish. I laughed, thinking he was being ironic. "No", he said, "really." In fact he and his wife had spent the summer in Ireland and Greece, looking up his roots. The full effect of his words needed a second to take hold and when he saw it on my face, he said, "Yeah, my great grandfather was Lafcadio Hearn." He then presented a card, written with the name, "Bon Koizumi."


One rainy Sunday, we went to Shiga for a performance by the Sankaijuku. This was my first Butoh experience and this troupe came very highly recommended. As expected, I was profoundly affected by the incredible body control of the performers. My yoga and martial arts training log nowhere near the amount of time put in by these men to achieve this sort of discipline. The silent screams one performer held was right out of silent German Expressionistic cinema. The contorted facial expressions and movements of the others reflected the horror of hibakusha nightmares. This kind of thing could never have been born in the US. Only a society of repressed expression could produce something like Butoh or Yoko Ono or even tentacle porn. Most powerful to me were the series of unbelievably dignified bows by the group's creator, Ushio Amagatsu. Then the lights dimmed slowly, and the white-caked dancers began to almost dissolve, as if beamed away. Miki and I had a great walk back to the train station, each expressing our take on what this performance, "Toki" or "Time, " was all about.

On the turntable: Miles Davis, "The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions"

On the nighttable: Bruce Chatwin, "What am I Doing Here?"

On the reel table: "Small Change" (Truffaut, 1976)

No comments: