Sunday, September 11

trees are spring / beauty without mercy : the music of kazuki tomokawa.

“ Tomokawa has inhabited an utterly unique world very much of his own making for forty years now. A world where the most limpid of minor melodies and symbolism-inspired natural imagery can happily rub shoulders with EXTREMELY peaked torrents of pained screams over the densest of acoustic noise-scapes. What welds it all together is Tomokawa's self-evident to desire to take himself and his audience through the wall with every performance. Forget any image of the sensitive folkie, Tomokawa's music is as violent and cathartic as anything in the underground rock or free jazz canon. For anyone at all still concerned with the possibilities of words, voice, and acoustic communication, Tomokawa is an unparalleled contemporary touchstone [...] Hearing Tomokawa for the first time more than a decade ago in Tokyo was one of those moments of musical epiphany rare in a lifetime. A wiry middle-aged Japanese man, handsome in a vaguely dissolute way, neck tendons taut, and bent double over his acoustic guitar, strummed with a force manic enough to snap strings while howling out lyrics rich in puzzling imagery, yet delivered as an unconscious cry of anguish ripped from an uncomprehending throat. Between songs Tomokawa passed the guitar to people in the front row to restring or retune it, as he downed pint glasses of whisky and water, or rummaged in his satchel for decades-old songs, all the while regaling listeners with stories of his alternative lives as a day labourer on Tokyo building sites, actor, poet, artist and more recently, successful bicycle race pundit. He told these tales in a thick north country brogue rarely heard in a city that habitually stripped its immigrants of their native voices. Here was an antidote to mainstream J-pop, an “authentic” Japanese singer who existed in a self-created dimension, able to awaken language's innate musicality, and even more unusually, transmit a message with the power to transcend linguistic boundaries...” - Alan Cummings

In a 40-year career that dives from from an early 70s folksinger scene membership increasingly deeper into the arcane and personal, Tenji Nozoki, who performs as Kazuki Tomokawa (literally translated as Friend River) has built a body of work that is both immediately recognisable and completely singular. On first listen, the most distinctive element is an intensity and power of voice – extended techniques combining with an unrelenting commitment to cathartis, a leap right down into deep emotional textures, a full and alarmingly dramatic inhabiting of the song.

Around this swirls a seemingly contrary musical world. The constant is always Tomokawa's own acoustic guitar, ranging from plangently dissonant picking through to a string breaking strum und drang – his guitars frequently bear the visible physical scars of the fury of the attack. Long term collaborators percussionist Toshiaki Ishizuka and pianist Masato Nagahata stretch the music to encompass ecstatic jazz-psych-noise and European cafe music respectively, often simultaneously.

Avant Gardening's Campbell Walker presents highlights of the long, strange career of one of the legends of the Japanese psych folk world, charting Tomokawa's progress from 70s pop star to elder statesman of the underground c.2011.



1. 'Ikiterutte Ittemiro' (Say, I'm living) (Say with Conviction I Am Living) from Hoshi No Process (The Process of Stars) (1998, rec live 1976)
2. 'Pisutoru' (Pistol) from Satoru (2003)
3. 'Ki-gi wa Haru' (Trees are Spring) (Trees Are Spring Itself) from Umi Shizuka, Koe (Tamashii) wa Yami (Sea is Silent, The Voice's Soul is Suffering) (1981)
4. 'Kaze no Shinya' (Storms in the Dead of Night) from Fault of Flowers (1993)
5. 'Muzan no Bi' (Beauty without Mercy) from Beauty Without Mercy (Muzan no Bi) (1985)
6. 'Ojiccha' (Grandpa) from Nikusei (Human Voice) (1976)
7. 'Boya' (Little Boy) (sonny boy) from Hoshi No Process (The Process of Stars) (1998, rec live 1985)
8. 'Dorobou-Neko Yoru Hashiru' (Sneaky Thief Runs at Night) (A Sly Thief runs through the night) from Yatto 1 Maime (Finally First Album) (1975)
9. 'Todo o Korosuna' (Don't Massacre our Stellar Sea Lions) from Nikusei (Human Voice) (1976)
10. 'Shinizokonai no Uta' (An ode to a failed death) from Inu Akita (live) (1979)
11. 'Hodoukyou' (A Footbridge) from Nikusei (Human Voice) (1976)
12. 'Inu' (Dog) (A Dog) from Within the Country of Falling Cherry Blossoms (Sakura No Kuni No 'Chiru Naka' O') (1980)
13. 'Issai Gassai Yo-mo Sue-da' (It's the End of the World at All) (Nothing Left But The End Of The World) from Umi Shizuka, Koe (Tamashii) wa Yami (Sea is Silent, The Voice's Soul is Suffering) (1981)
14. 'Satsujin to Ao Tenjyo' (Homicide and Clear Blue Sky) (Sky's The Limit and Murder) from Umi Shizuka, Koe (Tamashii) wa Yami (Sea is Silent, The Voice's Soul is Suffering) (1981)
15. 'Kare ga Ita Souda! Tako Hachiro ga Ita' (He was there. Yes!, Tako Hachiro was there.) from Beauty Without Mercy (Muzan no Bi) (1985)
16. 'Moesakaru Ie' (Burning house) (A Blazing House) from Live-MANDA-LA Special (1994)
17. 'Maboroshi To Asobu' (Playing With Phantom) from Playing With Phantom (Maboroshi to Asobu) (1994)
18. 'Hitori Bonodori' (Dance a Bonodori Alone) from Hitori Bonodori (Dance a Bonodori Alone) (1995)
19. 'Sky Fish' (Sora No Sakana) from Sora no Sakana (Sky Fish) (1999)
20. 'Watashi no Hana' (My Flower) from Fault of Flowers (1993)
21. 'Mata Kon Haru' (Spring Comes Again) (Again a spring that doesn't arrive) from Sora no Sakana (Sky Fish) 1999
22. 'The Eyes of Erice' (Erise No Me) from Erise No Me (The Eyes of Erice) (2001)
23. 'Hoshi Wo Tabeta Hanashi' (A story about swallowing a star) from A Bumpkin's Empty Bravado (Inakamono No Kara Genki)(2009)
24. 'Wake no Wakaran Kimochi' (Strange Feeling) (Can't comprehend the feeling behind these emotions) from Satoru (2003)
25. 'Chichi o Kau' (Buy Father) (Gaining a Dad) from The Eyes of Erice (Erise No Me) 2001
26. 'Waltz' (Warutsu) from Live 2005 At Osaka Banana Hall (2005)
27. 'Yamauta' (Mountain Song) from Playing With Phantom (Maboroshi to Asobu) (1994)
28. 'Sakura No Kuni No Chiru Naka O' (Within The Country of Falling Cherry Blossoms) from Within the Country of Falling Cherry Blossoms (Sakura No Kuni No Chiru Naka O') (1980)
29. 'Satoru' (II) from Hoshi No Process 2 (The Process of Stars) (1998, rec live 1985)
30. 'Ikiterutte Ittemiro' (Say, I'm living) (Say with conviction, I am alive) from Live 2005 At Osaka Banana Hall (2005)


[this show is dedicated with fondness to the late Richard Neave, noise guitarist, amateur ethnomusicologist, and true Tomokawa obsessive.]

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