Natto Quartet: Thousand Oaks (2005)
Recorded at a live performance in the Maybeck Studio of Berkeley, California, Natto Quartet's second recording, Thousand Oaks, builds upon the group's first recording, Headlands. It continues to explore a variety of juncturesmost specifically the meeting points of different cultures, and of texture and tonality.
The quartet's unconventional lineup includes Philip Gelb (one of but a few shakuhachi players concentrating on new and improvised music), koto player Shoko Hikage, pianist Chris Brown (who has recorded with artists including Wayne Horvitz, ROVA Orkestra and Bob Ostertag), and Tim Perkins on electronics. These instruments are are so well-integrated that it's often difficult to ascertain who is playing what.
The music on these seven collective improvisations ranges from spare and haunting beauty to more dense shadings, often within the confines of a single piece. Gelb and Hikage in particular bend the more traditional conventions of their instruments. At some points their oriental complexions are in full evidence, but elsewhere they mesh with the prepared piano and generally smooth electronic surfaces in ways that defy simple categorization.
Rhythm is a rare partner in the proceedings, although it occasionally emerges, as on "Ume, where, for a brief period, a pedal tone is maintained by Brown on the low end of the piano. It provides a centre around which the others converge, only to dissolve into more open-ended abstraction after but a few short minutes. Nor are harmonic centres the basis of this music, although they do periodically come together, creating small clusters of inter-relation.
While much of Thousand Oaks seems about a collective search for common ground, the quartet does create a coherent ambience where subtle thoughts become focal points providing some forward motion, even though a tranquil kind of stasis seems to suffuse the 45-minute programme.
Thousand Oaks is the kind of free improvisation that has more to do with contemporary classical composition and even certain elements of Oriental folk music than anything traditionally considered jazz. Still, it manages to develop its own Spartan aesthetic where the collective end is generally far more important than the individual means.
Track Listing: Ume; Dengaku; Kinpira; Genmaicha; Kuri-ae; Chawan Mushi; Shochu
Personnel: Philip Gelb (shakuhachi); Shoko Hikage (koto); Tim Perkins (electronics); Chris Brown (piano)