(La Huit)

For those who are not familiar with their productions, La Huit is a Paris-based distribution firm whose catalog of DVDs includes documentaries about central figures of free music and contemporary jazz, featuring names such as ICP Orchestra, Aki Takase, Wadada Leo Smith, Marc Ribot, Sainkho Namtchylak. “Otomo Yoshihide’s music(s)” is not really a proper revelation of this unassuming border-crosser’s creative doctrine (the elucidation of which is restricted to a couple of intrusions in broken English where, more or less, all he says is that improvisation and composition – or noise and tranquillity if you will – are impossible to tell apart for him, as they’re just diverse colours of a same palette to choose from). Yet the movie does possess something that characterizes it as particularly important, as this is the only available official video document of the activities of ONJE (Otomo New Jazz Ensemble), here captured in extracts from a 2005 performance in Paris presented in alternance with segments of solo sets on prepared turntable and guitar. The lineup for this particular event consisted of the leader plus Alfred Harth, Kenta Tsugami, Kumiko Takara, Hiroaki Mizutani, Yasuhiro Yoshigaki and Sachiko M. Five pieces are executed, comprising original compositions and covers of Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Jim O’Rourke. For starters, it’s probably a good thing that no vocalists were featured in the documentary, as keeping the focus on the instrumental energies of this group is made easier without the distraction of a sing-along. The front row features Harth and Tsugami’s intertwined saxophones, each gifted with an individual approach to the music: technically refined and rather elegant the Japanese, customarily unpredictable between fury and sweetness the German, both meeting halfway through ballad-tinged cuteness and enraged blowout like in the final “Eureka”, an O’Rourke piece that somehow has become a traditional, devastating goodbye in ONJE and ONJO’s concerts. Another almost invisible but decidedly effective presence is Sachiko M, her sinewave activity discreetly invading and persuasive for the viewers/listeners, attributing to the whole extravaganza a quality of inquisitive, if a tad glacial connection with the unknown forces of collective synchronicity, the latter perhaps the most evident trait of Otomo’s recent projects, which inevitably tend to a synthesis of early jazz influences and onkyo. The main character is neither an ostentatious performer nor a terrific guitarist, his figure perhaps a little more iconic while manipulating a modified-for-guerilla turntable to obtain mind-altering sonic substances. This notwithstanding, he shows a peculiar ability as a silent director, aptly highlighted by Dero’s sapient shots of his picking hand and grimacing expressions which seem to keep the combo galloping without even the need of a glance to the other musicians. Suggestive nocturnal panoramic views of the city are interspersed with the live action, and the use of slow-motion is applied to beautiful effect, especially on the percussionists’ side: the performances by vibraphonist Takara and drummer Yoshigaki (who doubles on trumpet in “Eureka”) are often a joy to watch, while the double bass towering on the little-but-heavy-handed Mizutani is yet another element of visual pleasure. The whole represents an experience that isn’t likely to add anything new to the memory of the lucky ones who were able to see the band in the flesh; for the remaining majority, it constitutes as an essential addition to their DVD collection as any from this French imprint. Needless to say, anyone interested in this fascinating facet of Otomo’s artistic career should treat this item as a necessary requisite.

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