REVIEW: Yukihiro Isso, Roger Turner, Takinojo Mochizuki, John Edwards at Cafe Oto

Noh-kan flautist Yukihiro Isso at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved

Yukihiro Isso, Roger Turner, Takinojo Mochizuki, John Edwards
(Cafe Oto, 4th February 2016; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The worlds of traditional Japanese music and of improvised jazz brushed against each other at Cafe Oto last Thursday, and the outcomes were both unpredictable and delightful. The combination of rigorous discipline and flights of inspiration that Noh-kan flute specialist Yukihiro Isso, percussionists Takinojo Mochizuki and Roger Turner and, in the final of three sets, upright bassist, John Edwards brought to the stage, made for a helter-skelter dialogue. All four musicians were confidently juggling the continuous risk of the precarious and spontaneous with their layers of deep experience.

Isso is steeped in the art of his acclaimed family's musical virtuosity, a heritage of flute playing linked to the austere intensity of Noh drama over four centuries, and has brought his skills to the art of improvised performance, notably with Cecil Taylor and Peter Brötzmann. Mochizuki, similarly, has taken his experience of learning from Japanese masters to open up the possibilities of Japanese drumming in the context of improvisation.

Their opening duo gained rapid momentum after a series of tentative taps and flutters. Isso launched into a fast-flowing, extended passage at breakneck pace with resonances of the abundant energy that Roland Kirk applied to the instrument. In the same spirit he would later combine the simultaneous playing of not only two of the many flutes and recorders in his arsenal, but up to five at once. Yet it was the originality and freshness of his solo sorties, including those on a small animal horn and a water bottle (from which he then drank), that made the greatest impacts.

Turner embraced the challenge, continuously sketching out complimentary taps and rolls, jarring scratches, scuffs and complex rhythms, first in a duo with Isso, and then in a trio with Edwards, which became a quartet as Mochizuki, beating a hand-held drum, joined them from the edges of the auditorium. The two percussionists ebbed and flowed in tandem with Mochizuki watching Turner's every twitch and turn to glean clues to shape his contribution, including low key vocalisations in traditional mode.

Edwards blended in magnificently, not only appropriating the tones of Isso's woodwind with eerie echoes of the calls of whales and wolves, but also mining rumbling subterranean strata as he bowed on the strings beneath the bridge to add richly rounded foundation to the intense interactions in the upper reaches.

Yukihiro Isso - flutes, recorders and misc instruments
Takinojo Mochizuki - Japanese drums and vocals
Roger Turner - percussion
John Edwards - double bass

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