Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Orchestra
During the late '90s and early 2000s, experimental music, which had slowly been gathering steam over the previous decade, crested into a furious wave of activity. What had formally been predominantly a territory of creative exploration for artists who had emerged during the 1960s and '70s, was back, reinvigorated by a growing new generation of innovators who embraced an expanded number of practices and techniques. Among the most important voices within this outpouring was the Japanese composer and multi-instrumentalist Otomo Yoshihide. Working across numerous discrete idioms of sound exploration on guitar, turntables, and electronics, he has remained a vital force on the scene ever since. Incredibly prolific, Yoshihide’s discography is hundreds of albums deep, making the process of retracing his restless steps a daunting task. Thankfully, Aguirre’s latest release - the first ever vinyl pressing of his 2005 masterstroke, “Out To Lunch”, takes us straight into the heart of it all. Among the most beloved artefacts in his more than three decades of output, this incredible interpretation of Eric Dolphy's legendary, final studio album offers a crystalline vision of Yoshihide’s towering talents, retaining the spirit and energy of the original, while breathing the energy and developing approaches of the new millennium into its midst, it’s arguably the greatest example of experimental jazz of its era. Issued by Aguirre as a beautiful double LP in a gatefold sleeve, faithfully reproducing the original cover art, accompanied with liner notes by Kahimi Karie, Otomo Yoshihide & Tonoyama Taiji, it’s a truly stunning piece of work and one of the most exciting reissues of the year.
Born in Yokohama, before relocating to Fukushima as a child, Otomo Yoshihide’s roots lay in the realm of jazz, a passion founded during his teens. While in university, he began studying improvisational guitar under the legendary giant of Japanese free jazz and noise, Masayuki Takayanagi, which changed his trajectory and pushed him fully into the realms of the avant-garde. Yoshihide first emerged during the late 1980s, before coming to international prominence within the seminal noise outfit, Ground Zero (alongside the Boredoms’ Yamatsuka Eye, Fushitsusha's Mitsuru Nasuno, and numerous others), during the 1990s, which encountered him developing his signature multi-instrumental attack on guitar, turntables, and electronics. As likely to be encountered weaving delicate solo works as he is within an endless stream of collaborations, Yoshihide has seemly worked with everyone in the landscape of experimental sound - Junji Hirose, Jim O'Rourke, David Watson, Charles Hayward, Tetuzi Akiyama, Keith Rowe, Oren Ambarchi, Günter Müller, Carl Stone, Luc Ferrari, Evan Parker, John Butcher, etc. - over the years.
Recorded by Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Orchestra - a project that would become central in the composer’s activities over the ensuing years - in late 2005, not long after its formation, “Out To Lunch” followed hotly on the band’s debut, “ONJO”, which had roughly remarked their approach, deconstructing works by Jim O'Rourke, Ornette Coleman, and Charles Mingus, alongside compositions by Yoshihide. Using Eric Dolphy's legendary, final studio album as a stepping stone - this is in no way a cover record - it encounters Yoshihide leading a 5-piece made up of some of the leading lights of Japanese and European experimentalism: Okura Masahiko, Kenta Tsugami, Mats Gustafsson, Mizutani Hiroaki, Unami Taku, Yoshigaki Yasuhiro, Nakamura Toshimaru, Sachiko M, Cor Fuhler, Ishikawa Ko, Alfred Harth, Aoki Taisei, Axel Dörner, and Takara Kumiko.
While Dolphy’s compositional themes - “Hat and Beard", “Something Sweet, Something Tender”, “Gazzelloni”, “Out To Lunch," and ”Straight Up and Down" - do float toward tangible recognition, and the players themselves often channel to his tonal sensibility, what makes Yoshihide's “Out To Lunch” so exceptional is its retention of the raw, forward thinking spirit of the original and its composer, recasting it through the lens of a new generation of artists at the dawn of the new millennium. In addition to the expected instrumentation of brass, reeds, bass, drums, guitar, and vibraphone, in its new incarnation the works also include sine waves, contact mike, no-input mixing board, and computer.
Entirely visionary, in the hands of Yoshihide's New Jazz Orchestra a form of jazz like no other rapidly emerges across the two sides of “Out To Lunch”, driven by a radical vision of what these songs might be, reworking, rethinking, and reimagining them every step of the way. Like Dolphy's original, and in many ways like Charles Mingus - whose work the ensemble had approached on the album’s predecessor - the outcome is not quite free jazz, but rather something more tonally and structurally controlled that culminates with a similar result in its wildest, out there moments, before returning to a spine of rhythmic and melodic lines. Ranging from moments that call to mind the golden eras of big band jazz and bebop, to full throttle passages of dancing howls and cries of brass, bass, and drums, intermingled with the textures of electronic noise and Yoshihide's skronky electric guitar - all bordering on the edges of free jazz, noise, and punk, “Out To Lunch” is a glorious celebration of collective sound making at its post-apocalyptic best.
Easily one of the most exciting, free thinking, and radically innovative albums to emerge during the 2000s, it boggled the mind to think that “Out To Lunch” - deftly rendered by Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Orchestra - has remained out of print since its original, Japan only CD edition ran dry all those years ago. Thankfully, Aguirre’s first ever vinyl edition of this masterstroke brings it to an entirely new generation of listener. Issued as a beautiful double LP in a gatefold sleeve, faithfully reproducing the original cover art, accompanied with liner notes by Kahimi Karie, Otomo Yoshihide & Tonoyama Taiji, if ever there was a reissue to grab while you still can, this might be it.