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Keiji Haino and Sumac – American Dollar Bill : Keep Facing Sideways, You’re Too Hideous To Look At Face On / Keiji Haino and Konstrukt – A Philosophy Warping, Little By Little That Way Lies A Quagmire

American Dollar Bill : Keep Facing Sideways, You’re Too Hideous To Look At Face On
Thrill Jockey

Keiji Haino and Sumac - American Dollar BillSo so so… I’ve got probably more Keiji Haino albums than anyone reasonably needs. My heirarchy tends to look like Haino solo > Fushitsusha > anything else. He’s got a pretty intimidating discography — more like the little-and-often of free improv and jazz than magnum opuses of rockism. The right answer to “what should I listen to first” is “any of the Fushitsusha albums and probably Affection“. I’m starting, with these releases, to realise that I’ve got fairly strong preferences with his collaborators.

An aside: probably my least favourite Haino record is the collaboration with Derek Bailey. Bailey’s totally opiate for me — my old man blues. But that record doesn’t really work for me — both players have just got way too much personality in their playing. Also Haino’s often at his best when entirely incongruous — the Mikami / Haino / Yoshizawa records where Mikami’s politely playing impassioned folk while Haino’s simulating some stellar catastrophe. The Bailey collaboration is just two players respectfully playing with each other. Bailey, similarly, at his best when against the odds — and he did a load of nominally incongruous things (ersatz drum’n’ ass, sidelonging along to funk etc). So that Haino / Bailey collaboration was a bit of a shame.

There’s the context then. Haino is, like a lot of the people I’m fond of, a resolutely awkward bastard as a collaborator. Speculating, but I wonder if it’s because his voice is so incredibly strong in his own stuff. I remember watching Fushitsusha a few years ago and watching the drummer counting out these ridiculous cycles, huge things where he’s also mouthing the rests. Similarly when in collaboration with Stephen O’Malley and Oren Ambarchi, although with way smaller cycles because, I guess, Fushitsusha is entirely Haino’s vision.

With that in mind — this collaboration with Sumac. It’s not, for my money, playing to Haino’s strengths. I’m sure these lads are fine in their own context (really not my kind of music), but it just comes across as a band with a fairly developed “groove” and Haino not quite gliding over the top. Haino fits in OK, though it’s still pretty clear what are his parts, but I think without (gulp) composition or anything particularly obtuse, it’s just a fairly alright rock record.

I mean, in fairness to everyone concerned, I’m sure this is mind-splitting for a lot of dyed-in-the-wool metallers, but it’s lacking the fluidity of people whose stock-in-trade is improv, the malleability, change on a dime dynamics… dynamics period. The context I’m coming from is very heavily someone who’s more into improv, so take it with a pinch of salt. If fairly standard metallers with a very un-standard rock guitarist / singer strikes you as something you might like, then go ahead, but I’d say the O’Malley, Haino and Ambarchi records are better, and Fushistusha is bloodied talons to the whole of rock/ism.

Highlights, probably, are the bits where (for instance), “I’m Over 137% A Love Junkie And Still It’s Not Enough (Pt II) “dissolves at the end — it’s just got a degree of fragility and falling apart about it, some actual tension where the players aren’t quite clear if it’s the end or something new, but that’s basically where Fushitsusha usually start from, and their pulses are way more fractured. I’d probably have a different perspective if it were Sumac whose voice I was listening for, so it’s still a YMMV deal.

A Philosophy Warping, Little By Little That Way Lies A Quagmire

Keiji Haino and Konstrukt - A Philosophy Warping, Little By Little That Way Lies A Quagmire

The Konstrukt collaboration fares a lot better, I’d say. It starts off with some thundering, honest-to-goodness groove. I saw Konstrukt at Brighton’s Alternative Jazz Festival (a real highlight and a treat, hope it’s back this year) and they were all sorts of amazing — they had this ineluctable logic to them where some heavily abstracted free blast would click into total vibes-core in a breath, and out again. Uncharacteristically for a lot of serious music (and they are seriously serious musicians), they had a sense of fun and joy about them as well — something about opting in to groove probably aligns their chakras differently to most free players, perhaps.

Anyway, so I don’t know Konstruct on record, but what we have here is basically a really fucking great free / fusion / jazz / thing band with Haino playing along. Possibly uniquely among Haino records I’ve heard, there’s long stretches where Haino isn’t centre-stage, or even where I can pick out his voice; there’s a lot of lyrical horn stretches and Haino’s just in with the band, possibly on textures or yelps. We’ve also got a fair run of lesser-known (in this part of Europe, at least) instruments — zuma, kaval, sipsi, gralla, etc — so we’re not locked into trad settings. I’d say possibly Konstruct’s magical trick is having the rhythm diffused — where you’ve got a single person on trap drums, there’s a tendency for them to define rhythm absolutely, whereas when you’ve got a few folk constructing (sorry) the rhythm, it’s allows for a way more bendy pulse.

I’d probably say that if you’re looking for a record to get into Haino, this isn’t your number — his voice is rarely front and centre — but if you’re looking for a record that stretches funky, tight rhythms over lucidly out modern jazz-type steez,/pullthis] with some fine, hot players — and an instrument set you mightn’t see every day, this is probably your boy. Further, if Haino’s not your boy then this is probably a record you’ll enjoy anyway — so wins all around, basically.

Oh, also — regular Haino spotters will be pleased to note that the trend of absolutely preposterous song titles is continued here, such as for instance “The Darkness Of +(plus) And The Paleness Of -(minus) Drag Each To An Identical Distance And Reanalyse Blending In Some Pain Part 1-3”. Well done Haino-san.

-Kev Nickells-

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