For some basic information here is Kaoru Abe’s Wikipedia page:
Unlike Motoharu Yoshizawa’s vast catalogue of music, Kaoru Abe’s is a little smaller. Well, it’s a lot smaller. But it more than makes up for that in energy and explosion. Not just regular explosion, but supernova explosion that swallows up nebula and blows galaxies apart at the seams.
That being said Kaoru Abe was also capable of moments of beauty and a reassessment of his back catalogue would reveal a very intelligent player who knew when to go supernova and when to play lyrical passages of immense beauty and grace. This is particularly noticeable on his bass clarinet work, the album solo 4.11.1972, his duet with Motoharu Yoshizawa, Nord and his duet with Masayuki Takayanagi, Gradually Direction. To hear the complete opposite of this and to enter a world were music is on the verge of being sheer noise, check out Mass Projection, also with Masayuki Takayanagi.
Which leads us nicely into the musical piece this post is concerned with. While it is more along the lines of Kaoru Abe’s “noisier” works, it does feature his knowledge of when to slow down and when to speed up. It also differs from the early free pieces mentioned on this blog (Motoharu Yoshizawa’s Mado – Window/Fragment 1) in that it is probably closer to the stereotypical view of free jazz, but I love it all the same anyway. So, onto the music itself:
Credit for the video goes to masck1122. Check out that channel as it also has Kaoru Abe’s bass clarinet playing, which is well worth listening to. It comes from the same concert as this saxophone improv.
This piece of music has some personal significance for me. It was the first time I’d heard of the late 1960’s/70’s Japanese Free scene (which does deserve a write-up – it’s easily just as impressive as any other music scene) and its one of those pieces of music that blew my mind. Never before had I heard anyone play with that freedom, that speed and the willingness to trust in his musical vision. Honestly when I first heard this music I remember thinking “Bach, Beethoven…its all gone man…game over.” Now that reaction has tempered with time, but I am still amazed at Kaoru Abe’s speed and freedom when I listen to him playing.
Some thoughts on this music. First, the speed. I can honestly say hand on heart I have never heard anyone play as fast as Kaoru Abe on any instrument, ever. Its incredible, its alto saxophone at light speed. Listening to the piece you can hear Kaoru Abe go from standing start to full speed like quicksilver. The reverse also applies here in that Kaoru Abe can go from full speed to slow in an instant. It allows Kaoru Abe to change his musical direction in a flash altering the course of his musical exponentially.
Second thought, the sound. Throughout this recording you can hear some gorgeous fade outs, some blitzing runs and what it would sound like if it were theoretically possible, saxophone feedback. Also a wide array of squeaks and squawks. Stunning use of an alto saxophone and the range it is capable of.
Third though, the structure. Yes this is freely improvised music but Kaoru Abe displays some cleverness here. The first part of the piece is blitzed, then it slows down. The next part is just ran through at such speed its impossible to keep up and then it is slowed down again, for longer this time with some wonderful fades. Then its squeaks, squawks and saxophone feedback and a dash to the finish. Kaoru Abe places the two slow bits in just the right places to allow both himself, and the audience to catch their breath, then giving himself licence to go at warp speed. Pretty nifty.
Finally, his tone. It’s impossible to describe with words but it sounds utterly unique and very fantastic.
That’s about it. Outstanding free jazz produced by one of its best, if obscure practitioners.