Otomo Yoshihide's evolution as a guitarist has been a fascinating part of a career full of remarkable and varied artistic achievement. From back in the 80s — when he was purely a noise guitarist playing a cobbled together instrument with a turntable attached — to his surprising emergence within his own "New Jazz" ensembles and his sometimes harsh, sometimes beautifully delicate solo work, he has shown himself to have excellent intuition for using the instrument.
This is an important point because from a technical point of view he is, well, no John McLaughlin. But Yoshihide's work has never been about conservatory proficiency. As a turntablist, he eschewed the use of records to find what sounds can be made with the rig itself. Likewise with the guitar he seems to have committed to a fairly thorough investigation into the possibilities of the instrument, it might be said, regardless of the fingers.
This live 2007 meeting in Tokyo with the Norwegian / Swedish supergroup The Thing may, however, be the first documentation of Yoshihide as, what in the old days might have been called, a "featured soloist." Shinjuku Crawl is a free jazz jam in the classic sense, fronted by Mats Gustafsson, who may possess greater combined power and control with the baritone sax than that instrument has previously known. The rhythm section of bassist Ingelbrigt Haker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love are perfectly propulsive, even during the quiet parts, and the sympatico the group has developed over a dozen years has given them the rare ability to make an enormous sound while still leaving room for others. In the past they have joined forces with such big personalities as Joe McPhee, Thurston Moore, Jim O'Rourke and Ken Vandermark — all players who will, in different ways fill the space available.
So the Thing here is the known quantity, reliable and dependable. The wild card is Yoshihide who — to belabor a metaphor — come up spades. He follows something of a Sonny Sharrock mold of fiery jazz shredding, and truth be told he hides a bit behind the distortion and flange. But that could be considered a point in his favor. Yoshihide certainly seems to know how to get what he wants out of the guitar, and if he's not the best of players, well, he's quite far from the worst. Shinjuku Crawl is over an hour of edgy improv, from quiet tension to full-on blast, by a trio plus one of players who know about nuance.
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