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Nazoranai+Flower/ Corsano Duo (live at The Scala)

Keiji Haino of Nazoranai live at The ScalaLondon
11 July 2013

So the first problem is always going to be that, writing after the fact, things get a bit distorted. Nazoranai were utterly amazing. To the extent that what, on any other night, would’ve been a totally formidable set from the Flower/Corsano Duo ended up falling flat in my retroactive estimations. That sounds a bit “damning with convoluted praise,” but it’s not meant as such.

Dues to the duo: starts off with Michael Flower very carefully pulling out a two or three note melody, steadily stretching it out but never veering too far away from his tonic. Modally, Flower’s definitely playing it steady for most of the set – there’s a tonic and it’s not moved away from except in what may well have been a third or fourth movement (difficult to know if those are accurate descriptions when I’m not sure the extent of freely improvisedness of the set). I’ve not seen this duo for a few years and there’s a definite sense that Flower’s really thinking about the ornaments – so while it’s modally static, the technique of getting from note-to-note – particularly the mordants, which might be known as gamaks in Indian tradition – have grown into quite the thing to behold.

That might sound disingenuous to Flower but whenever I’ve seen the duo before it’s felt to me like Flower’s bringing a bedding for Chris Corsano to opulently hover above – which is fine – whereas this was the first time I’ve really felt like Flower’s voice was often more compelling than Corsano. Definitely for the first ten minutes or so when it felt to me like Corsano hadn’t dug into second gear and didn’t seem to bothered about accentuating the pulse or going into free-fall/flight.

Flower/Corsano Duo at The Scala

Theirs is a really interesting dynamic – in principle, there’s not much to it. I mean, get someone droning in a steady pulse so an entirely amazing drum showman can do some virtuosic clatter – it’s always going to work. Saying that’s not challenging would be stupid – they’re both formidable musicians in their own right – but as a format it’s a case of getting from a to b, start/play/finish. So I suppose I was most impressed that there was quite so much discrete content, subtlety and nuance coming out of Flower.

You might have to imply a subtext that I’m avoiding talking about Corsano. That would be spurious. But it’s difficult to know what to say – Corsano is one of the greatest living free drummers. Moreover, he’s forged a style and a technique that never feels like he’s cribbing licks from elsewhere. There’s flashes of the Bennink school, bits of the Prévost out, a tincture of some sort of Milford Graves/Tony Williams axis, but it’s all fully-reconciled, all wholly Corsano. For a good ten minutes of the set he pulled out some fireworks the size of Buddy Rich with nary a phrase repeated. I’m not sure if Corsano hit Flower’s pulse once except in a scant few places, but for the sections where he was centre-stage, flying on fire, it was just incredible. And he’s got one of the best drummer’s gurns to boot.

And then they finished, I had a fag and waited about a million years for Nazoranai to come on.

Keiji Haino of Nazoranai live at The Scala

Stephen O'Malley of Nazoranai live at The ScalaI should probably say that I think I’ve seen Keiji Haino for pretty much most of his UK gigs in the last ten years and this was the loudest I’ve seen him, with the possible exception of the nominee for best-gig-I’ve-ever-been-to four hour 2005 show in Newcastle. Fushitsusha last year were let down by a loud but not really excoriating sound system (and peerless in every other regard) but The Scala has a loud-ass motherfucker of a PA.

Keiji Haino of Nazoranai live at The ScalaI have to mention Fushitsusha and I have to say that they were better. Both rock-based trios featuring Haino, both trios where the other musicians seem to get very little of a look in. Here though, the backing band is a lot straighter. That’s not to say that Stephen O’Malley or Oren Ambarchi are in anyway deficient rockists, but their playing is much less expansive. Both are watching Haino for cues and dredging away at riffs, O’Malley’s usual ‘fuck you’ onstage demeanour seems heavily damaged – there’s a look of intense concentration and mild panic on his face, particularly in a section where he’s playing a repeated chord just half-and-a-bit of a quaver off Ambarchi’s beat. Haino, as ever, remains imperious.

But yeah, O’Malley and Ambarchi are definitely straighter in what they’re doing – it’s not quite nailing the fours but most of the rhythms aren’t in the fusion jazz realm of things; Fushitsusha rhythm sticks to loops but they’re much longer and more distended than a single complex rhythmic phrase. It’s possibly unnecessary to compare Nazoranai to Haino’s best group – but it’s a (possibly retroactive) thing that sticks in my craw. That two players like O’Malley and Ambarchi were entirely playing second fiddle when their own work towers over the world concert stage (in the art-music world, anyway) is testament to quite how beyond everything Haino is. Yes. Very much a massive yes.

Oren Ambarchi of Nazoranai live at The Scala

But the good – oh, the good! – this was entirely astonishing, leaving comparison aside. Haino having the freedom to go all over the show with his guitar, showing off his astonishing vocal range and making an excruciating racket with his air Theremin thing. The good solid rhythms kind of lend Haino a lot of room – while he plays a handful of straight passages (including, I swear, a passage from “A Groovy Kind of Love”), it’s often a case of him soloing off into space because the rhythm is relatively restricted. There were sections of Swans-esque intensity, although as ever with Haino, it’s a case of a faint comparison with the Haino stamp leering over the top. There were moments of me hallucinating lights. There was also a period where I very genuinely thought the lighting rig couldn’t possibly tolerate the sound and I was going to end up a footnote to a BBC article on live venue safety. Something like a choir of Gilgamesh’s angry vacuum cleaners.

I feel a bit like I’ve over-egged the Fushitsusha thing, and I can’t emphasise enough that this was probably the gig of the year; it’s just a real shame that Haino is so incredibly good at being better than everyone. Yes. Very much a massive, unrelenting yes followed by a harpy yes of tinnitus.

Words: -Kev Nickells-
Pictures: – Ben Guiver-

Nazoranai backstage at The Scala

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