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Tsurubami - Gekkyukekkaichi

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Artist: Tsurubami

Album: Gekkyukekkaichi

Label: Strange Attractors Audio House

Review date: Feb. 9, 2004

An improvisational trio centered around Makoto Kawabata of Acid Mothers Temple, Tsurubami’s approach layers tidal waves of guitar over free-form bass and drums courtesy of Higashi Hiroshi (also of Acid Mothers) and Emi Nobuko, respectively. Gekkyukekkaichi consists of just two tracks, the title piece and “Seiitenrinengi,” each of them around the half-hour mark. While thirty-minute improvisations may send out warning signals, in this case the band’s droning textural aesthetic is well-served by extended forays.

The guitar is certainly at the center of this music, and Kawabata’s ultra-reverberating guitar does initially bring to mind another Japanese trio, Fushitsusha. But while the latter’s Keiji Haino explores mass and emptiness with equal fascination, Tsurubami’s focus is on mass and motion – there’s space, indeed, but it’s of the outer – variety, not emptiness. Dynamics are certainly at play, but it’s like a roller-coaster: it goes up, and it goes down, but it never actually stops.

Ironically, the guitar also brings to mind Kawabata’s former cohort, Nanjo Asahito, and his spacier project Ohkami no Jikan. But instead of channeling old-tyme space rock through modern walls of guitar sound, Tsurubami seems aimed at bringing cathartic guitar noise into the free-jazz world.

The production is such that it’s a bit difficult to make out what Higashi’s bass is up to much of the time, but it’s more or less moving in fluid freedom in and around the clattering crashes of Nobuko’s drums. Cymbal washes fill the quieter moments, and seemingly arrhythmic snare and tom hits accompany the guitar up and down its hills and valleys.

Chaos initially seems like it might be the ultimate point here. But careful listening brings rewards, among them the realization that this music works because the three players are clearly listening to each other. Sure, the results don’t require intense technical brilliance to pull off – these song structures are really based on up-and-down dynamics – but nonetheless, they pull back together, and at times burst out of a quiet moment in fierce unison.

Ultimately, though, this album hinges on Kawabata’s ability to keep unearthly guitar sounds interesting for an hour, and he succeeds there. It’s all based around coruscating collections of notes, shining through pitch shifts and deeply-delayed reverb, moving from glacial layers of sound to intense, screaming notes.

For anyone interested in exploring the potential of guitar-based, mind-melting drone-rock, look no further. Where Tsurubami might go from here will be interesting to watch. More of the same may be too much, as one album of this exploratory music could be interchangeable with another. For now, however, this one is certainly recommended.

By Mason Jones

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