Japan

Reminicent Suite, Mal Waldron/Terumasa Hino (Victor, 1973)

Personnel: Bass – Isao Suzuki Drums – Motohiko Hino Percussion – Uzi Imamura Piano–Mal Waldron Tenor Saxophone – Takao Uematsu Trumpet – Terumasa Hino

    'It's part of my personality to be very economical with what I have and to use it in all variations before I move to the next set of notes.'

    Pareles, Jon (September 10, 1982) "Pop/Jazz: Mal Waldron, Expatriate, Brings Quintet to Town" The New York Times

    Mal Waldron who first gained fame for his role as in house pianist/composer at Prestige Records and as Billie Holiday’s accompanist (from 1957 until her death in 1959) had a parallel career of great success in Europe as well as a close personal/professional connection with Japan.

    Much attention has been given to the Paris connection for Black American jazz musicians, but less to their links to other European centres; Waldron moved to Munich in 1967 (where he helped launch the ECM label and appeared on its first release) before moving to Brussels in the 90s. Wiks describes Waldron’s technique that developed during his European residence:

    'From the time he moved to Europe, Waldron played mostly in a free style, while being able to play in a more traditional style when the audience or situation required it. He used thick chords in the lower bass register; his emphasis on weight, texture and frequent repetition of a single and simple motif as opposed to linear and melodic improvisation gave a heavy and dark color to his sound. One facet of his playing was, according to The Penguin Guide to Jazz, 'likened to American minimalism: a slow accretion of almost subliminal harmonic and rhythmic shifts steadily pile up until the music seems ready to overbalance.'

    While the story of the Japanese embrace, reinvention and love for jazz  that manifests not only via collaborations such as this, but also the way Japanese labels so often put out the less-known jazz releases throughout the 70s and beyond is also under-celebrated, it seems to me.

    Waldron recorded this album with a group of acclaimed Japanese musicians (bassist Isao Suzuki, for example, is known in Japan as the “Jazz Godfather” and when living in New York, 1969-1971 recorded with Ron Carter, Paul Desmond, Charles Kelly and Thelonious  Monk and was a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers), sitting in for their usual pianist.

    As this anonymous review from Jazz Music Archives notes, what shines through in the recording, is the ease with which Waldron melds with the group, perhaps reflecting his long training as a support person to other artists. (Some claim that he is the greatest jazz piano accompanist). Asked what makes an ideal bassist/drummer in a 2001 Ted Panken interview Waldron replied: 'They listen and they try to adapt to what you’re doing.  That’s all you need, is somebody to listen and to adapt to what you’re doing.  Be like shadows.'

    Here’s the entire Jazz Music Archives review, which is very good so I’ll reproduce it in full here:

    American pianist Mal Waldron’s music is often associated with solo piano albums or acoustic trios, but it’s less known that his music was of a different nature during the early 70s. After his relocation to Europe in 1965, he regularly recorded on local labels (most significant - for German Enja and several albums for ECM), but later, during the early 70s, he became an almost cult like figure on the Japanese jazz scene as well. Many of his best albums were recorded in Japan, or are collaborations with leading Japanese musicians.

    The obscure “Reminicent Suite” is a great example. This two-piece album was recorded in Japan during Mal’s regular Japanese tour, and finds him working with the leading Japanese trumpeter and his group, the Terumasa Hino Quintet, with Mal Waldron taking the piano chair of their regular pianist Mikio Masuda. Terumasa’s Quintet was one of the leading Japanese advanced post-bop collectives of that time, including such sound members as bass legend Isao Suzuki and drummer Motohiko Hino. Improved with Mal’s piano (during early 70s he played much freer than he did in later decades, being a regular co-leader on Steve Lacy albums among others) perfectly communicating the band’s sound as a small orchestra. “Reminicent Suite” is a Waldron composition with strong tunes, well organized and it recalls Mingus’ best works. Terumasa’s trumpet is fast, strong and almost steals the show, but Mal’s piano fits perfectly here, it sounds like he was a Quintet member for months or years. Each musician has enough space for improvisation, a great example of really collective work.

    Side B’s “Black Forest” is a shorter and more percussive composition with stronger Japanese music influence. Repetitive rhythmic structure is used as a basic line for soloists changing each other. Less orchestrated, but melodic, and of the same high intensity level, it perfectly completes side A’s “Suite..”. 

    Never released outside of Japan, this album is too obscure to be better known and more popular. It’s a real pity - this work is a true Mal Waldron and Japanese jazz masterpiece.

    Whether the first piece written by Waldron, ‘Reminicent Suite: Dig it Deep Down, Baby/ Echoes/Once More With Feeling’ or the second ‘Black Forest’ (by Terumasa Hino) appeal more to you depends on how your jazz preferences are set; I love both. The suite follows a traditional set-up of each musician having a solo, but its genius lies in the way the ‘supporting’ musicians create the environment for them to do so, most notably Waldron himself. His performance is marked by wonderful modesty and understatement (at one point he disappears entirely). His solo appears to be so simple, at one point made up of the repetition of single notes.

    Waldron suffered a severe breakdown in 1963, when he lost the capacity to play the piano. Before his breakdown, Waldron played in a lyrical way, but after it, he said that 'I couldn't find that lyricism inside myself any more, so I became a very angular player' (in a way, it is said, that resembled Thelonious Monk's performance style and composition). 

    This ‘angular’ style can be felt in this work, yet it’s not cold and unfeeling. The combination of the abstract and the emotional in Waldron’s playing might be his lasting achievement. The following analysis comes from Adam Shatz’s excellent essay ‘Free At Last: Mal Waldron’s Ecstatic Minimalism’ published in The Nation last year:  

    'Waldron’s style is invariably described as “brooding”—almost all of his pieces are in a minor key—but it could also be described as analytical. Most jazz pianists work to create an effect of outward motion when they improvise. Swing, after all, is a musical analogue of dance, and its aim is to make the body more expansive and supple. Waldron’s music appears to work in nearly the opposite direction, burrowing ever more deeply into its materials: He seems to be on an inward journey. In “The Blues Suite,” for example, the slow, winding song that takes up more than a third of Meditations, there’s an extraordinary moment where Waldron plays a descending figure in the lower registers of the piano; as it recedes, a sample from the Negro spiritual “Wade in the Water” rises in its wake, suggesting a shadowy recollection, or the previously erased layer of a palimpsest.

    Waldron “played every piece as if he were X-raying it,” as Edward Said once observed of Glenn Gould. He turned to music as a kind of mental exercise, a way of figuring out what he thought; his pieces were almost all “meditations.” “I want to be able to see what I am doing,” he explained, “and in order to be very clear in my mind where I am going I have to repeat it.” His search for what he called the “one note that goes for the entire piece” gives his music an almost uniquely obsessive sense of propulsion—the feeling of being in a trance.'

    In the Ted Panken interview he shared how he was classically trained as were most of the jazz musicians from his era and that much of his performance derived from that legacy and Bach in particular.  Here is another extract from the interview:

    Talk about your daily life in ’54-’55-’56-’57.

    Well, my life was consisting of thinking about the melodies in the daytime, writing them at night, and then recording them the next day.

    What did creating the Mal Waldron style entail?  A more orchestral approach to the piano?  A more compositional approach?

    Well, it entailed not thinking of changes as changes, but thinking of changes as sounds, so that a cluster would do for a change or something like that, just a group of notes — not thinking of a tonal concept, just a group of notes would be an impetus for soloing on.

    **

    To read more about jazz, follow the tags in the Blog and In Praise of sections. 

    In praise of: ‘Books of War’ MF DOOM & RZA (2015) prod. Omegah Red/PoiSoN FLoWeRZ

    (He’s a shady character, what’s his name?
    Ah wait a minute, I’ve got his card
    Oo yes! here it is, DOOM......... I see.)

    .... It ain’t nuttin’ like... Hip Hop music...

    Bandcamp tags: Experimental, Shinjuku …

    Quite appropriately considering the artists involved, there is plenty of mystery surrounding this track. Using an instrumental from the 2013 record, Doom is for the Children Instrumentalz by Japanese producer Omegah Red, also known as PoiSoN FLoWeRZ, the verses come from two earlier releases. Is it a fan mash-up? It seems it might be, but reliable info is hard to come by. Was it ever officially released? 

    No matter about any of this, though, as it is perfect, delicious in its grace, lyrical conceits and when it comes to RZA’s contribution, in its tough-minded history lesson, delivered deadpan (in his gorgeous, guileless accent): a jewel in the morass. 

    To talk about simple beats, well, this is a very simple beat with what appears to be only one sample …

    It’s taken from a 1970 recording of a Cambodian singer, Ros Serey Sothea. Omegah Red does very little to it, in terms of adding tricks; he plays around a little with the beat, especially after 4’30” but throughout it remains understated, pausing at times, stop-starting it, to allow some space, some air. 

    Omegah Red’s simple production is smart. First, because the sample itself has a kind of power, not surprising maybe when you know something about the life of the singer, Ros Serey Sothea – the artist King Norodom Sihanouk gave the honorary title, ‘Queen with the Golden Voice.’ Ros Serey Sothea disappeared at the age of 28, or 29 during the Pol Pot regime: 

    Like everyone else when the Khmer Rouge took over, she was forced to leave Phnom Penh. There are many speculations regarding her fate from a variety of witnesses.
    Sothea was initially able to hide her identity well as she was from the Cambodian countryside and adjusted well, contrary to most of the “New People”. The survivors from her camp didn’t even know she was amongst them until she secretly confided with them. Eventually she was discovered and was forced by Pol Pot to marry one of his assistants in 1977. As a prolific singer, Sothea was forced to exclusively perform songs for the new regime.
    Her new marriage was an unhappy one marred by physical abuses. Eventually the disputes got out of hand and the Khmer Rouge cadre of her village decided she was more trouble alive. She was told that she and her family would be moved to another village and she was last seen by survivors departing by ox cart. She then disappeared under typically mysterious circumstances and is almost certainly dead.
    — Wikipedia

    Keeping it pared-back musically is also wise considering the highly controlled style of the emcees. MF DOOM and RZA are matched by their deadpan delivery and the sharp intelligence of their rhymes (yes, DOOM is seen to be one of the genre’s wild mavericks, but if you spend time looking at his rhyme sequences you quickly see the method in the so-called madness).

    I’ll let you read/appreciate the words in the video above, no need for me to cut and paste bits and pieces here; suffice to say, both verses are incredible. DOOM’s verse comes from ‘It Ain’t Nuttin’ from The Herbaliser’s 2002 record, Something Wicked This Way Comes, which in contrast to this track is positively jaunty. 

    While RZA’s verse first appeared on the 1997 Gravediggaz single ‘The Night the Earth Cried’ from The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel.