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Monday, March 13, 2017

Straytone, Nakamura, Masubuchi, Tokunaga - A Crescent and Moonflowers (Meenna, 2016) ****

By Nicola Negri

Straytone – modular synthesizer
Takashi Masubuchi – guitar
Masahide Tokunaga – alto saxophone
Yui Nakamura – voice (track 2)

Ftarri is a record shop and performance space located in Tokyo – linked to the Improvised Music From Japan imprint that documented the local free improvisation scene since the early 2000s – that today, through its own Hitorri, Ftarri and Meenna labels, continues to present both established figures as well as younger newcomers to the scene, as this record attests.

A refreshing take on free improvisation from four young musicians active in the Tokyo area, A Crescent & Moonflowers documents the complete performance – two sets lasting about thirty minutes each – that took place at Ftarri on 5 June 2016.

The record begins with restrained guitar arpeggios floating above the synth’s low volume ambience, a distant saxophone buzzing in the background, slowly developing a loosely sketched improvisational dialogue that highlights chance encounters and collisions of different musical worlds – the blues sensibility of Masubuchi’s guitar, the experimental noise nature of Straytone’s synth, the ultra-minimal style of Tokunaga’s sax. There’s a certain simplicity in the proceedings, the music sounding somehow inevitable – the sign of a well-assorted group of improvisers – but this doesn’t translate to predictability. There’s enough variety in the musicians’ carefully calibrated contributions, seemingly casual intersections and distinctive voices, to constantly keep the listener alert and waiting for the next development.

Masubuchi’s delicate lyricism keeps the performance on a relaxed mood, heightened and contrasted by Straytone’s menacing sci-fi electronics, while Tokunaga’s measured textural work adds a deeper dimension to the overall ambience. The addition of Nakamura on the second set doesn’t alter the ensemble’s balance, reinforcing the alien soundscape with whispered incantations and guttural rumbles.

The different scenarios depicted by the ensemble, and the somewhat familiar yet disorienting general atmosphere, make of A Crescent & Moonflowers a captivating experience, growing in complexity at each listen – a glimpse of the new Japanese scene that promises even more exciting developments.