Session 2 - Koenjihyakkei
This Wednesday night at 7:30, our prog-rock concert video series will continue on the big video wall in the E14 atrium with a selection of live performance excerpts from the Japanese Zeuhl band Koenjihyakkei.
Prog rock of all genres has, to put it mildly, a strong following in Japan. Obscure European prog bands who can barely fill a club at home can sell out large venues in Tokyo. A few years ago, for example, I attended a show there by the 70's Italian band "New Trolls" where 3000-plus Japanese concertgoers were actually singing along with the songs in Italian.
Magma, the French band featured last Wednesday, have considerable influence over several Japanese musicians. Perhaps the strongest example of this is in the music of Yoshida Tatsuya, especially in his Koenjihyakkei incarnation. But Yoshida doesn't just copy Magma here - he distills Magma's most intense essence, then holds it over a musical bunsen burner until it's jacked it up to 11 and stays there. Gone is the dynamic contour of Magma's music - Koenjihyakkei don't relent until they pound a cognitive hole in your auditory cortex, but this is OK as it gets to a really interesting place.
Koenjihyakkei (高円寺百景 - sometimes translated as the "Hundred Sights of Koenji") are facetiously named after the nondescript suburb of Tokyo where Yoshida once lived and is quite fond of. The band has been in on-and-off existence since 1991, with their first CD released in 1994. The musicianship in this band is always extremely strong. Yoshida himself is probably one of the top drummers in the world now - his resume includes stints with major European prog bands (e.g., Gong, Samla Mammas Manna, etc.) and probably nearly every edgy prog-rock and avant-jazz artist in Japan. His performances are amazing and sometimes balance on the verge of what's physically possible (for example, I've seen him capably play drums, guitar, and keyboard at the same time).
Koenjihyakkei's music involves chanting choral vocals, much as with Magma - they similarly don't sing in their native Japanese, but rather utter nonsensical phrases. They don't have Magma's penchant for long, epic pieces - their songs tend to be only 5-10 minutes long. This provides a good opportunity to select a sampling of their music for Wednesday that spans their career by drawing from the 4 DVD's they have released over the last decade - Live at Star Pine's Cafe (2002), Live at Doors (2006), 070531 (2008) and Live at Koenji High (2010). You will see their music evolve considerably - the early pieces indeed channel extreme moments of Magma, while the later works tend more strongly to free or avant-fusion jazz.
Koenjihyakkei are distributed in the US through Skin Graft Records, who host an informative website at:
Yoshida Tatsuya is amazingly active and prolific, and runs many different bands and musical projects - his most famous is probably Ruins (a duet with bassist Sasaki Hisashi that sounds amazingly full), but a real favorite of mine is Korekyojin (featuring the awesome guitarist from Bondage Fruit, Kido Natsuki) - perhaps we'll feature them on a future video night. You can find out more about Yoshida's work at:
The Japanese edgy prog/jazz scene tends to be highly recombinant, and frequent musical dalliances between players in different bands are common. Since Yoshida Tatsuya, Koenjihyakkei's founder and leader, tends to be at the center of this scene, many astounding Japanese musicians have passed through Koenjihyakkei's ranks. For example, the Live at Doors DVD features one of my favorite keyboard players in Japan, Kanazawa Miyako (her own band, Le Silo will be covered in a video night later this term). The "070531" DVD showcases an all-star cast, including composer/keyboardist/producer Hoppy Kamiyama (Zappa fans shouldn't miss his recent "A meaningful meaningnessless" CD, plus he ran the "God Mountain" label), Akihisa Tsuboy (incredible violinist - a future video night may feature his own band KBB), Imahori Tsueneo (guitarist for one of the most important Japanese avant-prog bands who pioneered this quirky style, Tipographica), and keyboardist Ishibashi Eiko (her solo work is wonderfully eccentric). The reed player for most of Koenjihyakkei's career is Komori Keiko - she also plays in one of Japan's craziest big bands, Shibusashirazu (also a perfect candidate for a future showing in this series).
So I look forward to seeing those of you on Wednesday who dare to take the Koenjihyakkei challenge - 2 hours of Japanese prog extremism will make us a better community.
Next Wednesday (March 16) will also feature a Japanese band - this time Kenso, who are a little more "mainstream" although no less intense....
Joe Paradiso (Spring 2011)