Maru Sankaku Shikaku (Circle Triangle Square), self-titled, Bamboo BAM3CD7010 (2013)
Long dormant artifacts from the halcyon days of Seventies Japanese trippy hippy psychedelia, three albums recorded by a group of travelling troubadours Maru Sankaku Shikaku have been bundled into a big set and made available to interested folks beyond the shores of Nippon. Led by Sakuro “Kant” Watanabe, the band travelled around Japan in the early 1970s performing publicly as street performers and dossing down in sleeping bags and tents where need be.
The three discs convey the impression of long shamanistic rituals in which free-form and improvised music dominates. A lot of it sounds direction-less and perhaps it was intended to be. There are sometimes passages where the music seems to coalesce into something definitely rhythmic and acquires focus and purpose. In such sections, the music is surprisingly energetic and joyful, and the performers carry on and on for their lives until they’ve sucked the life out of the groove. Disc 1 in particular feels like the appetiser to the main course and dessert that will follow on succeeding discs: while certainly very active, it has the ambience of the musicians practising warm-up and preparation, and occasionally psyching themselves into their own private trances, in which they engage in mental and psychic space travel, in order to ready themselves for the main rituals. The mood is happy and exploratory, as performers experiment with various objects, some musical and others not so but pressed into service anyway, and play with them for as long as their attention is not distracted by the next toy available.
At this point it should be said that each disc, representing an individual album, is about 30 minutes long with just two tracks (each corresponding to one side of the original vinyl LP release) so it can be assumed that the music was originally intended to be continuous on each album. It could very well be that the albums are excerpts of one continuous jam session. Disc 2 begins rather alarmingly with a woman’s wordless ululations against accompanying drums and a guitar: neither instrument makes any coherent sense and both play against each other. The music is frantic with a restless animated zip: all instruments zing off at tangents and follow their individual journeys in often demented ways. Guitar especially scrabbles through a forest of blues tones and drums knock about constantly. Organ noodles and stutters about. Later a definite guitar melody develops and energy concentrates in the riffing. As on Disc 1, there is plenty of mucking about and curious experimentation for its own sake.
Disc 3 features faster, slightly more structured music as the performers get caught up in the mood of their moment and go for broke while the inspiration powers them. The singing is perhaps the most outstanding aspect here: the disc starts off with a male performer babbling away excitedly while jaunty piano follows him. The troupe is caught up in the vocalist’s mood and garbled, wordless singing continues more or less for the length of the album.
The whole set really is a musical universe unto itself; to say the performers were off with the fairies is an understatement to say the least. Probably the closest contemporary parallel would be the strange fey fairy folk ambient music scene that used to exist in Kyogle in northern New South Wales some years ago. The music takes its inspiration from free-form jazz without appearing jazzy at all. What became of the performers after they recorded their five albums is unknown but if they knew their body of musical work has survived down to the present, they would surely be overjoyed. A new generation of listeners can finally discover the performers’ strange rituals and journeys to another world for themselves.
After forty years, the music remains fresh and as loopy as it must have been at the time. My copy of the set is a digitally remastered one and the hiss and crackle of the original vinyl do not appear.