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Toshinori Kondo - Silent Melodies

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Artist: Toshinori Kondo

Album: Silent Melodies

Label: Off

Review date: Jan. 25, 2008

Trumpeter Toshinori Kondo is one of the most celebrated musicians in Japan with a long and fairly storied history in avant garde circles. He started off as a jazz player in thrall to the usual suspects: Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker. After moving to New York in the late-’70s, Kondo fell in with the Downtown music scene, eventually collaborating with the likes of John Zorn, Bill Laswell, and Peter Brotzmann as part of the Die Like a Dog Quartet. Over the years, he has increasingly incorporated electronics, effects, and computer processing into his playing. Though he still worked with figures like Brotzmann, he also began collaborating with DJs, such as DJ Krush, with whom he released the avanty-downtempo full-length, Ki-Oku, which is perhaps his most well-known recording to date.

Solo recordings by Kondo, however, have been as rare as proverbial hen's teeth, especially since he moved to Holland back in the early ’90s. This new full-length, as the liner notes stress, is the first to feature Kondo performing alone on his electric trumpet with no overdubs or additional instruments, as spare as minimal as possible.

Sadly, however, given Kondo's distinguished pedigree, Silent Memories, is pretty disappointing. In many respects, its Achilles heel is the electric trumpet itself. Kondo's playing, when not overly treated with effects, can be quite interestingly textured, sounding a wee bit like fusion-era Miles sans backing band. But those moments are few and far between. Too often Kondo submerges the trumpet in endless seas of reverb or processes the sounds into thin, computer blurps, swoops, and warbles. The former recalls the toothless blurriness of new age music, while the latter brings back unwanted memories of mid-’80s avant-electronic experiments.

By Susanna Bolle

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