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Massive 7xCD box set compiling rare material by the great alto screamer Kaoru Abe is the lost wild legend of '70s Japanese free jazz. In the short space of his tempestuous life, he burnt a path which has served as a map for a whole generation of Japanese artists to follow who would call themselves 'free' in any sense of the word whatsoever. Though he performed live frequently in his day, his releases were sporadic, many of them emerging after his untimely death in 1978, and on a string of Japanese labels not exactly renowned for their overseas distribution.
Abe was born in 1949 in Kawasaki. He left school aged 17, and moved to Shinjuku, a city which then, as now, seems to have been something of a centre for the counter culture and a welcome environment for the kind of music he would go on to play. He taught himself to play alto sax, and learned the apposite theory of his own accord. He made his debut aged 19, but ws not really to impact on the scene for a few years yet. His playing was heavily grounded in the hours he spent practising alone; most of his recordings and performances were solo (it has been speculated that this was because of his tendency to literally play over the top of potential collaborators), and show him to be, in a way, a quite 'selfish' player. The normal pattern for Japanese jazz musicians was to study with their elders, practise regularly with fellow musicians, and eventually make their professional debut. From the very beginning, Abe flouted the rules. He took to practising for hours at a time on the hard-shoulder of the Tokyo-Yokohama Expressway near his home, much to the consternation of passing motorists. (One story has it that when Abe held a solo session of the banks of a nearby river one freezing cold mid-winter's day, an old boatman took mistook him for an escaped mental patient and called the police!)