Chrome Hill Duo: Asbjørn Lerheim electric baritone guitar, electronics | Roger Arntzen double bass, electronics
Dōjō: Michiyo Yagi: electric 21-string koto, electronics | Tamaya Honda: drums
A Norwegian jazz-rock quartet steeped in Americana that has spawned six albums and countless live performances, Chrome Hill has been an integral part of the lives of Asbjørn Lerheim and Roger Arntzen for over two decades. In 2014 Lerheim and Arntzen found an opportunity to visit Tokyo and attend the Hokuo Music Fest, a trade seminar for Nordic bands trying to enter the Japanese music market, where they began laying the groundwork for Chrome Hill’s first tour of Japan. The tour was realized the following year and included a double bill at the legendary Roppongi club SuperDeluxe with Michiyo Yagi, who played a duo set with the German drummer and Krautrock icon Mani Neumeier. Lerheim and Arntzen were stunned by Yagi’s performance on her electric 21-string and 17-string bass kotos, and they began entertaining the idea of incorporating Yagi’s unique sound into Chrome Hill’s music. This was realized during the group’s next Japan tour, in 2019, when Chrome Hill invited Michiyo Yagi and drummer Noritaka Tanaka to join them at Koen-Dori Classics in Shibuya, Tokyo. The energy generated by the two drummers, three string slayers, and a saxophone was massive and inspiring, and the members of Chrome Hill couldn’t wait to come back to dig deeper into this collaboration.
When Chrome Hill returned to Japan in 2020 they were unable to bring the entire band, so they arrived in their alternate form, the Chrome Hill Duo, that operates as a semi-independent “chamber version” of the quartet. Meanwhile Tanaka had relocated southwest to Kyushu, so Yagi brought on board Tamaya Honda, her longstanding musical partner in the koto + drums power duo Dōjō as well as several other groups.
Yagi, Honda, Lerheim and Arntzen played two concerts in Tokyo, first at Koen-Dori Classics, then at the venerable “hole-in-the-wall” jazz club Aketa No Mise. The performances began with short individual sets by the Chrome Hill Duo and Dōjō that warmed things up nicely, but when the two duos came together to form a single unit, a galvanic surge of musical energy was released. The quartet played some of the twangy, cowboy-inflected Chrome Hill songs with the electric 21-string koto taking on some of the guitar melodies to unusual effect, while more common musical territory of the two lead electric instruments was explored in several free improvisations. All the while, bass and drums locked together like well-oiled gears, sometimes driving the music forward like long-haul trucks, at other times bouncing along like tumbleweeds.
That Lerheim and Arntzen had brought some recording equipment to document their visit turned out to be a lucky strike, as you may conclude after hearing this recording of the Aketa No Mise gig. Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit immediately afterward, and production had to be postponed for several years. But now the worst seems to be over, post production has been completed, the album has been released and, in March 2023, Chrome Hill Duo and Dōjō are scheduled to reconvene in Tokyo for a series of concerts. The last of these will be at Aketa No Mise. May the circle remain unbroken.
Music on tracks 2, 4, 6, 7 by Asbjørn Lerheim | Tracks 1, 8 by Asbjørn Lerheim, Roger Arntzen, Michiyo Yagi and Tamaya Honda | Track 3 by Asbjørn Lerheim and Roger Arntzen | Track 5 by Michiyo Yagi and Tamaya Honda
Recorded by Asbjørn Lerheim and Roger Arntzen at Aketa No Mise, Tokyo, Japan, January 16, 2020 | Mixed by Ingar Hunskaar | Mastered by Giuseppe Ielasi
Produced by Asbjørn Lerheim and Roger Arntzen | Executive production by Pedro Costa for Trem Azul | Design and artwork by Gonçalo Falcão
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