Black Cat Roman Candle

Keiji Haino seems to be enjoying a purple patch lately in terms of collaborations, but then all I’ve got to go on is the few crumbs of noise-cake that fall my way from the table of plenitude. The latest one is a team-up with the UK sax great John Butcher, they did it together at Cafe Oto in 2016, and the results have been published now as Light Never Bright Enough (OTOROKU ROKU018). Five great pieces, including two lengthy workouts (nothing titled, only identified by roman numerals)…I wonder if this is the whole set? Not a duff moment and one of the most powerful records of chilling darkness and scarified noise I’ve heard from these musicians.

I know Haino has his detractors, but he’s being much more refined and subtle than unusual on the grooves here, none of the excessive volume of the 1990s Fushitsusha mode nor the sprawling self-indulgence that can mar his performances for some. Instead, taut and compact statements issue forth from electric guitar, a theremin (on one cut) and his voice, although I can’t detect much of the latter. I relish the reverb on Keiji’s “axe” on this occasion, making me think of early rockabilly with all the attendant stripped-down sound and mean-ness I associate with that genre…plus it indicates he might not be dragging a huge FX rack around with him so much these days. Few can coax the truly alien spirit of the guitar from that instrument as well as Haino, and it’s in the physical body-movement playing and finger-manipulation rather than the delay and flange pedals.

As to Butcher, he has been refining his sound and his style over many years with each published statement better than the last (although 2012’s Carliol is one benchmark you should investigate), and his assurance on this record is remarkable…spurred on by guitar and electronic hurdles, Butcher draws out several new tricks from his travelling feedbag, and plays melancholy drones, half-formed tunes as if expected to play in a post-punk 1978 band, crazy Evan Parker styled circular curlicues and elaborations, quiet saliva-filled breathy passages, and many more devices besides. And that’s not to mention his feedback experiments. There’s barely a single moment where these very extreme explorations, these wild clashes of sound, don’t succeed in causing alchemical sparks to fly from the furnace… “far beyond the conventions of jazz and other musics” is how the press chooses to exult John Butcher, and this assessment is both accurate and resonant.

The entire album is quality content, but I am drawn to ‘III’ for its single-minded investigation of a sore and rueful emotional state, using repeated musical figures and insistent sounds to pin down the fugitive beast, until all sorrow is drained from its chromium heart…whatever that means. Packaged in a simple black and white digipak with an obi, this release is a solid item. From 6th February 2018.

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