Takayanagi Masayuki New Direction for the Art - La Grima LP
Famed free jazz concert registration of an early New Direction for the Art performance. Recorded in 1971. Old-style Gatefold LP, with rare photographs & extensive liner notes by Alan Cummings.
The performance by Takayanagi Masayuki New Direction for the Art at the Gen’yasai festival on August 14, 1971 was an intense, bruising collision between the radical, anti-establishment politics of the period in Japan and the febrile avant-garde music that had begun to emerge a few years before. The ferocious performance that you can hear here was received with outright hostility by the audience, who responded first with catcalls and later with showers of debris that were hurled at the performers. Takayanagi though described the group’s performance to jazz magazine Swing Journal as a success, “an authentic and realistic depiction of the situation”.
In 1962, Takayanagi, bassist Kanai Hideto and painter Kageyama Isamu went on to form an AACM-style musicians’ collective called the New Century Music Research Institute. Every Friday, members gathered at Gin-Paris, a chanson bar in the fashionable Ginza district of Tokyo, to push the outer limits of jazz creativity.
But the pivotal moment for his music was the creation a new trio version of his New Directions group in August 1969, with the free bassist Yoshizawa Motoharu and a young drummer Toyozumi (Sabu) Yoshisaburō. Experiments eventually led to the creation of two basic frameworks for improvisation that Takayagi referred to as Mass Projection and Gradually Projection.
“La Grima” (tears), the piece that was played at the Gen’yasai festival, is a mass projection and listening to it, you can get a clear sense of what Takayanagi was aiming at. Mass projection involves a dense, speedy and chaotic colouring in of space that destroys the listener’s perception of time, and thus of musical development.
The ferocity of the performance of “La Grima” at the Gen’yasai Festival in Sanrizuka on August 14, 1971 was consciously grounded by Takayanagi in a particular historical moment, ripe with conflict and violence. A month after the festival, on September 16, three policemen would die during struggles at the site. This was the context that the three-day Gen’yasai Festival existed within. The line-up reflected the radical politics of the movement, with leading free jazz musicians like Takayanagi, Abe Kaoru, and Takagi Mototeru appearing alongside radical ur-punkers Zuno Keisatsu, heavy electric blues bands like Blues Creation, and Haino Keiji’s scream-jazz unit Lost Aaraaff.
New Direction for the Arts trio topped the bill on the opening day, playing an aggressive, uncompromising “mass projection” set of polyphonic improvisation. Alongside drummer Hiroshi Yamazaki and saxophonist Kenji Mori, Takayanagi soloed hard and continuously for forty minutes. This was performance as precisely calibrated metaphor: three musicians responding to the demands of the moment with instinctive force and fury, untethered by rules, leaderless yet not rudderless (the direction part of the group’s name was no accident). The piece was entitled La Grima – tears - and the fusion between the palpable anger of the performance and hopeless sadness of its title were also perfectly apt for the situation. This was a fight that the state was always going to win. Yet, by all accounts, the band’s set went down like a fart at a funeral. The band were showered with catcalls and debris throughout, and by chants of “go home” when the music finally came to an end.
However, looking back at the event in the year-end issue of Japan’s leading jazz magazine, Swing Journal, Takayanagi was surprisingly upbeat: New Directions brought a solid political consciousness to our performance and succeeded in an authentic and realistic depiction of the situation. But journalism revealed its superficiality in its inability to penetrate the core of the music. I don’t know much about anyone else, but we at least left behind a competent record.
It’s a fascinating statement in many ways. Perhaps on one-hand it can be read as stubborn, solipsistic and self-justifying, yet in conjunction with his statement in 1971 there are points that guide us towards an understanding of just what Takayanagi intended with his performance at the festival. As Kitazato Yoshiyuki has argued, it becomes an almost religious act, directed at the earth deities of the land. A union of anger, sorrow and malevolence that can be placed nowhere effective, all it can do is find expression and channeling. The forcible land seizures at Narita, the eviction of farmers from land that had been in families for generations, the destruction of communities: none of this can be prevented, not least by an artistic action. All that can be done is an attempt to mark the land itself, to soak it with the combined force of emotions and the volume of the performances, to bury something there that cannot be drowned out, even by the coming roar of jet engines.