Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit: Axis/Another Revolvable Thing 2

August 2020

Part 1 and CD version also available

Axis/Another Revolvable Thing is the second installment of Blank Forms’ archival reissues of the music of Japan’s eternal revolutionary Masayuki Takayanagi, following April is the cruellest month, a 1975 studio record by his New Direction Unit. Comprised of recordings of a September 5, 1975 concert by the New Direction Unit at Yasuda Seimei Hall in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, the two volumes showcase Takayanagi in deep pursuit of what he began calling “non-section music” after leaping beyond the confines of his prior descriptor “real jazz.” The quartet of Takayanagi (guitar), Kenji Mori (reeds), Nobuyoshi Ino (bass, cello), and Hiroshi Yamazaki (percussion) deftly explores the twin poles of Takayanagi’s spacious “gradually projection” and explosively virulent “mass projection” concepts across six pieces, titled Fragments I – VI and split between the two LPs.

As part of his liner notes, newly translated for this edition, for Part 2, noted Japanese free jazz critic Teruto Soejima wrote:

Every time I hear a performance by New Direction Unit, for some reason I get carried away by the illusion that I can see their sound. A red hot chaos, woven together from percussion, reeds, and bass or cello. Then, jetting out from within it, traveling at dizzying speed, the sound of the guitar, shooting pleasantly right through the center of our cerebellums from front to back. And at that moment, we stomp on the gas of our awareness and our imagination, careening off in hot pursuit of the group.

I can see, I can hear each individual sound of the performance. The musicians listen intently to each other, their terrifyingly precise concentration creating clusters and lattices of sound. The music’s structures arise from perfect interplay. As those structures become gradually denser, a sense of time arises. Exactly like the moment when the first amoeba on earth came into existence. Time is already in rapid motion. And then, when all the performance variables align perfectly, like a rubber band, time stretches out towards the infinite. Thrust, acceleration… This is not the music of Ligeti or Xenakis, it’s the music of New Direction Unit.

Masayuki “Jojo” Takayanagi (1932 – 1991) was a maverick Japanese guitarist, a revolutionary spirit whose oeuvre embodied the radical political movements of late ‘60s Japan. Having cut his teeth as an accomplished Lennie Tristano disciple playing cool jazz in the late ‘50s, Takayanagi had his mind blown by the Chicago Transit Authority’s “Free Form Guitar” in 1969 and promptly turned his back on the jazz scene by which he was beloved, going as far as to call his former peers and admirers “a bunch of losers” in the press. Takayanagi had found a new direction, an annihilation of jazz and its associated idolatry of hegemonic American culture. Aiming his virtuoso chops towards the stratosphere, Takayanagi dedicated himself to the art of the freakout, laying waste to tradition left and right, most notably via the all-out assault of his aptly-named New Direction for the Arts (later New Direction Unit) and collaborations with like-minded outsider saxophonist Kaoru Abe. His innovations on the instrument parallel those of Sonny Sharrock and Derek Bailey and paved the way for the Japanese necromancy of Keiji Haino and Otomo Yoshihide, but even at its most limitless hurdling Takayanagi’s playing is propelled by the dexterous grasp of his foundations, to which he paid tribute with elegant takes on flamenco and Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman.” In the autumn of his life, Takayanagi’s solo Action Direct performances made him one of the first guitarists, alongside but independent of Keith Rowe, to use tabletop guitar for pure noise improvisation.