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Tokyo Conflux

by James Hadfield

Like natto (foul-smelling fermented soybeans), men’s handbags and John McCain, free jazz — and its European corollary, free improvisation — doesn’t inspire moderate reactions. But love it or loathe it, there’s no denying that this noxious subgenre is still in a rude state of health more than four decades after it first emerged.

Those who like their music virile and teetering on the brink of listenability are in for a treat at Tokyo Conflux 2008, which rounds up some of the most formidable improvisers on the planet for some heavy skronk. The assembled players will appear in a number of different configurations over five nights, so you might just want to cancel all your dinner dates for the week.

Representing the old guard is German saxophonist and clarinetist Peter Brotzmann, a towering figure on the European improvisation scene for the past 40 years. Now in his late 60s, his recent recordings have shown hints of mellowing, but don’t be fooled: he can still out-blow players less than half his age.

From Scandinavia’s thriving jazz scene, saxophonist Mats Gustaffson, drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and bassist Ingebrigt Ha o ker Flaten play together as The Thing, notorious for their eviscerations of songs by rock bands such as The White Stripes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They’ll be joined this time by Chicago-based wind-player and composer Ken Vandermark, who collaborated with them on last year’s “Immediate Sound” album.

Rounding things out on the other nights are Tokyo-based multi-instrumentalist Jim O’Rourke, mercurial guitarist Keiji Haino, drummer Nori Tanaka and koto-player Michiyo Yagi (who’s also worked with J-pop superstar Ayumi Hamasaki). Most have played together on numerous occasions in the past, so you can expect improvisation of the highest caliber. Or a godawful racket, depending which way you look at it.

Tokyo Conflux events are held on Sept. 21 and 24 at Koen-Dori Classics, Shibuya (7:30 p.m.; ¥4,000 in advance, ¥4,500 on the door; [03] 3464-2701); Sept. 22 and 23 at Shinjuku Pit Inn (8 p.m.; ¥4,500 in advance, ¥5,000 on the door; [03] 3354-2024); and Sept. 25 at Super Deluxe, Roppongi (7:30 p.m.; ¥4,000 in advance, ¥4,500 on the door; [03] 5412-0515). See profile.myspace.com/tokyoconflux for lineup details for each night. Peter Brotzmann, Michiyo Yagi and Paal Nilssen-Love also play Sept. 28 at Club Metro, Kyoto (6 p.m.; ¥3,500 in advance, ¥3,800 on the door, plus compulsory drink charge; [075] 752-4765); Sept. 29 at Jaz’ Room Nu Things, Osaka (8 p.m.; ¥4,000 in advance, ¥4,300 on the door; [06] 6244-1071); and Sept. 30 at Tokuzo, Nagoya (7 p.m.; ¥3,500 in advance, ¥3,800 on the door, plus drink charge; [052] 733-3709).