Bringing together the Norwegian jazz quartet, or two of them, with Dojo, the Japanese improvisational koto and drum duo, was an inspired bit of experimental madness. One that works marvelously. Recorded live at the classic hole-in-the-wall underground club Aketa No Mise on a tour during the middle of the pandemic, the four musicians not only unite their wild imaginations, unique techniques, and musical breadth, they put out a ton of energy.
Kicking off with “Dust Devils,” the four musicians use electronics p.r.n. with strings or percussion or effects along for the ride, to create a tune like a sonic whirlwind spinning across a desert plain. You can hear it, but the sound has no single shape. The split-second shifting of textures, of momentary whims, is what makes the song so fascinating.
“Country of Lost Borders” pits neo-western jazz twang against taut traditional koto for a mix that must be a first. It’s hard to say why it works so well, but it does, and with a delightful playfulness. The images from such different musical worlds kept the borders porous indeed. “Long Shadows” is a delicate, calm song with an intriguingly layered set of sounds. It flows with shadows and suggestions and elegant uncertainty that pull you in. It’s just the right song for the middle of the set, and middle of the CD.
“Ascend” lets the koto and guitar range up and around while the bass and drums throw down a thick foundation. The sound rockets up and falls back into a stomping beat, before driving forward into a guitar-koto dash to the finish.
Whether throwing down on “What Lies Beneath,” when all four really let loose, or playing with measured care as on “10-4,” the quartet follows their in-the-moment inspiration to find just the thing you’d never think of. “Clockwork” of course doesn’t play like clockwork past the intro. The Western guitar and Eastern koto blend especially nicely here, showing how they are maybe not that far apart, but instead both springing from a deeper source.
The delightful “Partly Particle” closes out this live recording with an exploratory non-groove that layers all four of the musicians’ styles into a musical whole. It’s a good closer that defies expectations with fresh, direct energy. The musicians sound as intrigued with it all as the audience must have been.
Many live recordings fail to capture the richness of live music made in the moment. But in addition to having great sound quality, this CD captures the live feel of this once-in-a-lifetime show extremely well. For those with a taste for unpredictable music performed with power and sophistication, this CD is uniquely recommended.
(May 26, 2023)