July 28, 2016
saxophonedaxophone - Junji Hirose and Kazuhisa Uchihashi
It is my opinion that listeners of non-idiomatic improvisation tend to think of it as "serious music". This perception is likely due to the fact that the music is often a manifestation of the prolonged discipline of practice and of intense introspection, as much intellectual as emotional. However, there have been practitioners who have deviated from this opinion. One famous example who articulated such a sentiment is the British guitarist, Derek Bailey (1930-2005). He said, "I used to run Thursday nights at the Little Theatre, and I'd play with absolutely anybody who'd turn up...My view is more that if I go out to play, I stop playing too often. I think it's because there's too much non-playing in one's life. It doesn't bother me. I can stand to play a heap of shit sometimes...What I do is not that precious. There are times when I'll play with more or less any fucking thing." [Derek Bailey, interview 1997 from "Derek Bailey and the Story of Free Improvisation" by Ben Watson, Verso, London, 2004, p. 61.]
The German guitarist and creator of musical instruments, Hans Reichel (1949-2011), was another musician who, while he did not articulate such arguments, embodied the ideal in his music. Nowhere was this more apparent than in his works for daxophone, an idiophone composed of a shaped stick, a sound box, a bow (as for a violin) and a fulcrum block (dax). In the daxophone, reverberations are created in the stick by bowing it and controlling the wavelength of the vibration with the dax. The particular sound that emerged depended on the tree from which the wood was cut and the shape of the stick. (Reichel carved the sticks of his daxophone into works of art.) The header at the top of this web page is a font made by Reichel (also a font designer) from actual daxophone sticks. Depending on the stick used, the instrument could sound like a tuba, or a violin, or a badger or a whale or, in the hands of an amateur, nails on a chalkboard. For the curious the two daxophone operettas par excellence created by Reichel are "Shanghaied on Tor Road" (FMP, CD 46, 1992, Germany, cd) and "Yuxo" (a|l|l, a|l|l 003, June, 2002, Germany, cd). Other Reichel releases have some daxophone contributions.
As an idiophone, the daxophone is a difficult instrument to play. Reichel mastered it and, and in his operettas, multi-tracked his own playing of various sticks. He formed an "All Daxophone Band", a quartet with one known recording, a single song, titled "HI", five minutes in duration, on the compilation, "AngelicA" (I Dischi Di Angelica, CAICAI 004, 1994, Italy, cd).
Because of the peculiarity of the voice of the daxophone, it invites the creation of a light-hearted, sometimes comical music. This joyful and goofy music contained an inherently intellectual component in the creation and refinement of a unique instrument from which it arose. At the same time, it was at odds with "serious non-idiomatic improvisation". It always seemed that this conflict was at least partially responsible for the fact that Reichel never obtained greater recognition, even within the limited group of listeners of such music, for what were clearly amazing expressions of his individual vision.
Upon hearing "Shanghaied on Tor Road" in 1992, I immediately built my own daxophone. It was crude. My skills at carpentry were rudimentary. Still I succeeded in principle. I performed for my friends, even a duet with a good-natured classmate, classically trained on the viola. I thought perhaps I was the only person in the world besides Reichel who had a daxophone.
Fast forward to 1998. Hans Reichel & Kazuhisa Uchihashi released "King Pawns" (Zenbei Record, ZEN-006, 1998, Japan, cd) on a label created by Kazuhisa Uchihashi. This album was a duet with Reichel playing daxophone and self-made guitar and Kazuhisa Uchihashi on guitar. This was not their first collaboration; they also appeared together on "Stop Complaining/Sundown" (FMP, CD 36, 1991, Germany cd). What is noticeable on "King Pawns" is that for the first time, the daxophone with its incredible range of expression appeared not only as a light-hearted instrument, but also was featured in an ominous, moaning voice, as on track 4. The interaction with Uchishashi had clearly influenced Reichel to explore new territory.
Only fourteen years later, after the death of Reichel in 2011, Kazuhisa Uchihashi released "King Pawns: Live in Berlin 2006" (Innocent Records, ICR-020, 2012, Japan, cd). The name of his label had changed in the interim from Zenbei to Innocent Records. This release was eye-opening. It contained four types of Reichel/Uchihashi duets: guitar/guitar, guitar/daxophone, daxophone/guitar and daxophone/daxophone. Moreover, the release provided evidence that Uchihashi had dedicated a considerable amount of time to investigating the daxophone. The audience laughs when the two daxophones in duet argue with each other.
In 2015, the cd "saxophonedaxophone" (doubtmusic, dmf-160, 2015, Japan, cd) was released, which after an inexcusably long introduction, is the subject of this review! "saxophonedaxophone" features Junji Hirose on saxophone and Kazuhisa Uchihashi on daxophone. The label, doubtmusic, is run by Jun Numata and appears to have started activity in 2005. Notably the entirety of the now defunct Seijaku (featuring Keiji Haino, Mitsuru Nasuno and Yoshimitsu Ichiraku) catalog was released on doubtmusic.
As a belated introduction, Kazuhisa Uchihashi (b. 1959, Osaka) is probably best known (in a relative sense) as the guitarist of the band, Altered States. Junji Hirose (b. 1955, Tokyo) has performed as a free improviser in Japan since the early 1980's. He has also been a regular member of Otomo Yoshihide's Ground Zero.
These long-time improvisers join forces on this album, for what is presumably the first ever saxophone and daxophone duet. The music is frenetic old-school free improvisation. Free of melody, harmony and rhythm but full of vigor, responsiveness, curiosity, imagination and devotion. It is a kind of playing that found expression across the globe (or at least in the U.S., Europe and Japan) in members of their generation. Reichel almost never used the daxophone in this context. Uchihashi has repurposed the daxophone for his own vision. Yet, one cannot remotely dismiss Reichel from this music; he is implicitly present in the odd and unique voice of the daxophone.
This sort of non-idiomatic improvisation seems to have run its course and to be falling out of vogue. (Of course, it was never in vogue except in the cultural margins!) Younger generations of practitioners of non-idiomatic improvisation seem to want it all--the musical elements of melody, harmony and rhythm without abandoning the philosophical underpinning that led to free improvisation. Such curious experiments are another step in the global evolution of this music. Still, "saxophonedaxophone" provides a modern document, which shows that there remains space within a pure expression of non-idiomatic improvisation for novel ideas in which the sympathetic performance of two musicians manifests in the beauty of unpredictability.