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Sun Ra Arkestra aside, a big band is an unlikely format for experimental music. Too many players; too much history. Yet two veteran experimental musicians — electronica guru and performance artist Matthew Herbert and keyboardist Naruyoshi Kikuchi, a stalwart of Tokyo’s improvisational music scene — have lately made the big band their chosen format.

Kikuchi’s group, Date Course Pentagon Royal Garden, is an improvisers’ supergroup featuring, among others, noted drummer Yoshihiro Yoshigaki and Otomo Yoshihide, recently renowned as a turntable artist but here returning to his original instrument, the guitar. Date Course has given many of these artists the biggest audiences of their careers.

Mining the tension between their tightness as a band, responsive to Kikuchi’s subtle direction and the members’ impressive abilities as improvisers, Date Course puts on a rousing show. There are moments when the shrieking horns are reminiscent of Stan Kenton’s discordant white-boy brass distortion, but Kikuchi draws his influences from the freer end of the jazz spectrum with a modern injection of turntable noise and psychedelic guitar. Hidden in Date Course’s funky sprawl are touches of Herbie Hancock, as well as the expected Sun Ra, and their cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” is a set highlight.

Matthew Herbert’s Big Band is more subtle and has a far more subversive agenda. Since “Bodily Functions,” in many ways his breakthrough record, Herbert has honed a jazz sensibility that harks back to the classic songwriting of the Gershwin brothers and Cole Porter. The sounds of “Bodily Functions” may have been sampled from belches and other aural bodily emissions, but they were ultimately shaped into songs your parents could love.

The Big Band project was originally conceived as a performance piece along the lines of Herbert’s classic “Mechanics of Destruction.” On “Mechanics,” he produced dance music from samples produced real-time by destroying cheeseburgers, blue jeans, awful pop CDs and other artifacts of consumer capitalism. With the Big Band, the idea was to apply the same principle of sampling and remixing to a big-band performance.

The problem was, Herbert has become such an accomplished songwriter in the jazz idiom that it was difficult to see what his real-time sound manipulations were adding to his band’s performance. The additions of electronic rhythms and sound treatments were almost gratuitous — distracting from, rather than embellishing the songs.

However, Herbert’s new Big Band album, “Goodbye Swingtime,” is far more successful, perhaps because the studio provides more room in which to maneuver. Although there are certain points where you just want to enjoy Herbert’s smoky melodies, the additions are often used to underline rather than detract from the bluesy, ’40s mood.

On his next Tokyo jaunt, Herbert’s Big Band is playing the Blue Note, a classic jazz venue, rather than a dance club. Perhaps he’ll feel less pressure to fiddle electronically and allow his band to let loose and swing.

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