By Eyal Hareuveni
This musical summit of the Norwegian Chrome Hill Duo – guitarist Asbjørn Lerheim and double bassist Roger Arntzen (without Chrome Hill’s sax player Atle Nymo and drummer Torstein Lofthus) and the Japanese Dōjō Duo – innovative koto player Michiyo Yagi and drummer Tamaya Honda, was a dream come true. Lerheim and Arntzen entertained the idea of incorporating Yagi’s unique sound into Chrome Hill’s music after seeing her performing with the German drummer and Krautrock icon Mani Neumeier in 2014. They managed to do so in the 2019 tour of Chrome Hill in Japan, when Yagi and drummer Noritaka Tanaka were invited to join the band at Koen-Dori Classics in Shibuya, Tokyo.
Live At Aketa No Mise was recorded a year later in January 2020, with the so-called chamber version of Chrome hill – Lerheim and Arntzen, and with Yagi with drummer Honda, her longstanding musical partner in the koto + drums power duo Dōjō as well as several other groups. The ad-hoc quartet played two concerts in Tokyo, first at the basement hall of Koen-Dori Classics, then in another basement at the venerable “hole-in-the-wall” jazz bar-club Aketa No Mise in west Tokyo.
The performances began with short individual sets by the Chrome Hill Duo and Dōjō that warmed things up nicely. The real deal happened when the two duos came together. The two duos offer energetic but sensual music, exotic but with strong veins of Americana’s bluesy, open spaces and futurist fusion, with Yagi’s electric 21-string koto and her, Lerheim and Arntzen adding electronics to their arsenal, and seductive ambient textures (and the cover art by Gonçalo Falcão reflects faithfully this inclusive sonic vision). Yagi and Lerheim build intricate layers of entangled textures, while the rhythm section of Arntzen and Honda sounds as if they have been playing together all their lives, and always kept pushing the music forward.
Live At Aketa No Mise is opened with the stormy «Dust Devil» and concluded with the like-minded «Partly Particle», both are powerful improvisations of this quartet. Lerheim is the main composer and his dramatic and lyrical «Country of Lost Borders» (originally from Chrome Hill album by the same name, Bolage, 2013) and the suggestive, minimalist ballad «10-4» (originally from Chrome Hill’s last album, This Is Chrome Hill, Clean Feed, 2020), captures beautifully the imaginative and poetic essence of this genre-binding, border-erasing meeting. His «Ascend» (also from This Is Chrome Hill), demonstrates the volcanic and intoxicating energy of such a musical summit. Chrome Hill Duo and Dōjō celebrate the release of this album with a series of concerts in Tokyo. The last of these concerts is at Aketa No Mise, suggesting that the circle remains unbroken.