Taku Sugimoto – Quartet OctetFebruary 9, 2014
For those with similar musical tastes to my own, an ensemble made up of Taku Sugimoto (guitar), Taku Unami (sinetones),Nikos Veliotis (cello), Kazushige kinoshita (violin), Klaus Filip (sinetones), Ko Ishikawa (sho), Moe Kamura (voice), Radu Malfatti (trombone) and Masahiko Okura (clarinet) is a mouthwatering proposition. The first four names in that list came together at the Kid Ailack Hall in Tokyo a decade ago now and recorded what was to become the excellent Quartet album on Unami’s Hibari label. The same quartet reconvened in the same place in 2013, nine years after that event and recorded the somewhat brief opening piece for this new album. The full ensemble listed above, minus Kinoshita, then performed the following day, the result being the second track here.
Quartet Octet is released on Slubmusic Tengu, the compositional sub series of Taku Sugimoto’s Slub label, and both of the works here are realisations of compositions written by Sugimoto. The opening quartet lasts the sum total of two and a half minutes. The piece feels a bit like a sped up Wandelweiser work, with soft sounds from the four musicians crossing over one another in such a manner that the music feels like it is twinkling, Unami’s sinetones appearing and disappearing abruptly so as to feel as if they ping in and out over the dryer violin and cello tones. Sugimoto’s guitar offers just the dry, almost toneless thuds we have come to expect from him over recent years. Spaces are left in the composition in which the musicians rest together, but while we are used to the elongated silences of the Wandelweiser tendency here they are cut back to a few seconds only. The piece is actually really nice, but it feels like a prelude for the longer work that follows on the disc, which seems to take a very similar form. The octet feels to me more like Malfatti’s Darenootodesuka as the eight musicians provide a more dense field of sound, vaguely melodic in a dreamy, distant way, though the pacing and mix of short and more sustained sounds remains similar to the quartet. the recording quality isn’t so great on this track. Given that the recording was made by Taku Unami this probably has more to do with not enough microphones to be able to place one in front of each musician than any lack of technical ability, but there is a murkiness to the piece, with the eight musicians each emerging from a cloudy backdrop of atmospheric room tone. This additional blanket behind the musicians is actually a really welcome feature of the recording though. As well as providing a nostalgic reminder of how the early recordings from OffSite and Kid Ailack would often sound, coated in a distant swell of traffic and city hum, the composition here works better for its lack of auditory clarity. If the music feels lackadaisical despite its density then the way it feels partly masked only adds to this distant quality.
This disc isn’t an essential purchase, though if like me, this area of composition is your ideal soundtrack to a lazy Sunday morning or a quietly borrowing weekday night then its a welcome addition to the canon, and inevitably the musicianship involved is of the highest order. The one thing that bothers me about it though is the inclusion of Kamura’s voice, which for some reason seems to be more audible than any of the instruments here. She sings what seem to be wordless pitches and little half melodies, but for reasons I just cannot explain (and I realise are both irrational and wholly subjective) I struggle with the inclusion of her voice here. It seems to clash with the warmth of the instrumentation and stands out a little too boldly for my liking. Overall Quartet Octet is an enjoyable, slightly mysterious sounding disc and a welcome reminder of what is achieved when such a group of musicians come together.