The booking policies of club owners have long had an influence on music. Generally speaking, this influence has not exactly been a nurturing one as those with a financial stake in a venue prefer safe bets to adventurous outings. As such, musicians, especially young ones, wanting to test new ideas have historically had to do so in their homes, at private loft parties or in the kind of clubs that can afford to take a risk.
Koto player Michiyo Yagi has a multifaceted musical personality that might delight her fans but could be a nightmare for booking gigs. While her reputation as an accomplished classical musician regularly lands her in conventional concert halls, such places don’t indulge much in the way of experimentation — especially when she plugs her instrument into an amp. Clubs, meanwhile, aren’t exactly hungry to book koto players. But when she revealed the lineup of her new power trio — Talon — to Mike Kubek at SuperDeluxe, he says he “jumped at the chance to have them play.
Granted, with Mitsuru Nasuno of the long-standing improv rock group Altered States on bass and Tatsuya Yoshida of Ruins on drums, Talon should be a killer combo. But strong potential can secure a gig only at a club with enlightened booking policies — or a venue like SuperDeluxe.
“We’ve been doing a regular improvised and modern music series for the last three years or so at our ‘office’ Deluxe,” Kubek says, referring to the space shared with Klein Dytham Architects and multimedia artists Namaiki. “But now that we have a dedicated space for art, music, eating and drinking I wanted to be more active and bring in a slightly wider variety of music. Especially new projects or even experiments by artists who represent Tokyo.”
The upcoming La Nuit Japonesque certainly qualifies. In addition to Talon, Yagi will play a set with her all-koto quartet, Pawlonia Crush, as well as with the esteemed dancer and model Sayoko Yamaguchi. Meanwhile, Yuji Katsui, leader of the trance-rock band Rovo, will play a solo set on violin and electro-torture effects. Throughout, strange and exotic video projections will delight the eye and expand the mind.
La Nuit Japonesque promises to be intense, but Kubek says he’s paying special attention to the night’s dynamics. “There is a fine balance between multimedia extravaganza and multimedia overload. We want to break things up over the evening so that each set will seem fresh, but not overwhelming. I also want to leave room for customers to relax a bit and interact with each other during the evening.”
Yagi is also pleased to have an entire night to stretch out and looks forward to the range her different ensembles will provide. In the case of her duet with Yamaguchi, she explains, “It’s possible for a meeting of different disciplines to inspire a new kind of artistic expression that transcends what the two parts are capable of alone.” Much of the duet will be choreographed in advance, but she says room will be left for improvisation.
Yagi’s international reputation as an improviser has been growing ever since she first performed in the United States in 1989 at the Bang on a Can Festival. Since that time she’s performed with adventurous Japanese musicians such as Haino Keiji, Hideo Yamaki and Sachiko M, as well as saxophonists Peter Broetzmann and John Zorn, and bassists Bill Laswell and Mark Dresser. While Yagi says that her classical training is at the heart of all she does, she is determined to expand the range of music into which the koto can fit comfortably, even if that means modifying her instrument.
“For several years I’d been interested in putting together a power trio with koto, bass and drums. What made this kind of lineup virtually impossible was volume — I could never hear myself when playing with drummers, and neither could they hear me.” But when she found a guitar maker who felt up to the challenge of outfitting the notoriously temperamental koto with a pickup, she suddenly found herself with a hybrid as versatile as a Stratocaster.
And with the space at SuperDeluxe at her disposal, she’s got a place where she can crank it up.
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