Ko Ishikawa – sho
Tetuzi Akiyama – acoustic guitar
Hideo Ikegami – contrabass
This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Confront Recordings. The label, created in 1996 by English cellist Mark Wastell, continues to be an important venue for both historical and emerging figures in free improvisation, giving space to musicians coming from different geographical areas and music styles.
This recent release presents two sets of a live performance organized at Kissa Sakaiki in Tokyo by Hideo Ikegami, a bassist and improviser who wanted to further explore the possibilities of his duo with Tetuzi Akiyama, one of the most important experimental guitarists to emerge from the Japanese scene of the late ‘90s. For the occasion he invited Ko Ishikawa, a sho (bamboo mouth organ) player with a deep knowledge of Gagaku music and usual collaborator of Akiyama, to join the group.
Both sets have a strong narrative quality, evolving in wide structural arcs into a cohesive frame, using rich dynamics and sudden silences to build a solid performance that highlights the affinities the musicians share towards a common improvisational language, in spite of the different backgrounds they come from. The sho is the real surprise here: it has a breathing quality that reminds of the accordion, but it almost assumes the character of an electronic instrument, with a piercing tone that Ishikawa modulates in sweeping waves of sound that shape the harmonic contours of the performance. Akiyama plays exclusively on acoustic guitar, often opting for single accents and short staccato excursions or exploring the instrument’s hidden possibilities with his mastery of extended techniques, while Ikegami is in constant dialogue with both his partners, with a huge sound and excellent arco work, sometimes referencing jazz and classical traditions.
There’s a fruitful tension running through the album, with the slowly shifting dynamics of the sho and the dense activity of guitar and bass sometimes moving in parallel lines of large structural developments and tight abstract counterpoints. The musical discourse never loses its focus though, thanks to the listening ability and attentive interplay of the musicians, that manage to keep the performance constantly engaging until the very end.