For Henzai, Hisato Higuchi’s fourth album, the Japanese guitarist and vocalist leans a little further yet out of the spotlight. Even on his first EP, She, he was never one for demonstrative behavior, but Henzai’s improvisations and compositions often feel like they’re disappearing before your ears, beauty in search of a reflective surface it can hide behind. Tellingly, the difference between the five improvisations and seven compositions on Henzai often seems to be little more than a third chord, or three or four extra notes struck on the guitar — in Higuchi’s world, such shifts are seismic.
If the co-ordinates for this music remain much the same — Loren Connors’s Venusian blues, Keiji Haino at his most melancholic, Anthony Guerra’s pensive love songs — Henzai seems somehow a shift forward, a tighter focus for Higuchi; if memory serves correctly, on previous albums he’s felt the need to crank the amp a little, or alter the mix, leave his voice unadorned, etc. But this one feels like one thought threaded through a series of mildly different settings. The first three songs are of a piece, pivoting around the same fundamental chord, and later in the album Higuchi uses some jazz phrasings and chord changes, but slowed to Mogadon pace.
What this means, I guess, is that the atmosphere is all, and the heaviest moments come when Higuchi trails a melody out on one guitar string, naked and alone. On the closing “Musu,” he breaks into actual lyrics, not his usual soporific moan, and it’s the closest Henzai comes to a startling moment. The recording quality helps, the songs gently bathed in an amniotic glow of tape hiss, this presence lent a ghostly air in the moments where the music all but slips out of earshot. It’s a humid environment, but not tropical — this is the stickiness of dark, muggy rooms, and enclosed environments.
This is a sound at once so singular, and yet so fragile, that Higuchi could easily disappear into his own music, lost in between the simple skeins of melody yarn that he poetically knits into these songs. They have a gentle, yet slightly troubled air of reflection and internalization, rather like Arthur Russell’s World Of Echo music, and like Russell, Higuchi’s voice often crumbles as it leaves his mouth, softly expiring just beyond the tongue’s tip. But it’s not diffident at all — the unyielding quality of the 12 pieces that make up Henzai proves Higuchi is made of rather stern, confident stuff.