New York City is still a place where new musical adventures are born. And not all of them find their way to the Tzadik catalogue. Kioku (japanese for "memory") is N.Y.C.-based trio who released their new one on the small Quiet Design label. And that is the way I like it. Who are Kioku? The trio is made up of Wynn Yamami (taiko, percussion), Ali Sakkal (saxophones, percussion) and Christopher Ariza (live electronics). Their music is a very unusual blend of influences, unheard before and providing the word 'worldmusic' with a new content. Yamami is specialized in playing japanese percussion. Sax-player Sakkal originates from Kuwait. With his eastern background he studied with Branford Marseilles, Oliver Lake, a.o. Ariza is a composer and programmer of sonic structures and systems. He composed for theatre, film, interactive media, etc. With their different backgrounds asian percussion music, jazz and sound art come together for a new adventure. In contrast, most compositions refer to already existing traditional korean and japanese music. 'Drum Thing' is a composition by John Coltrane. 'Spirits 16' is composed by Keith Jarrett. Over all the music is very powerful and aggressive. In most pieces we hear eastern rhythms and patterns played with much energy on eastern percussion, noisy and abstract sounds, and a jazzy saxophone. But the furious and convincing playing of the three, leaves you no time to wonder about this exceptional combination. They have no time and reason to hesitate. The tapestry of percussive beats is in most pieces very dominant, also because the traditional percussion colors the soundspectrum considerably. But also the saxophone often is in a prominent role. The live electronics of Azira however have a place more in the background, bridging everything effectively and inconspicuous together. An excellent work!
Kioku are quite the special entity when it comes to jazz. Deftly fusing Eastern percussion with electronic trickery and working it into a Western jazz aesthetic, the New York trio carve out a unique sound that brims with passion and is delivered with electrifying energy. Consisting of Wynn Yamami (taiko and percussion), Christopher Ariza (live electronics), and Ali Sakkal (saxophones), Kioku engage in a 1 hour workout split across 6 tracks. As you press play, deep percussive resonance immediately unleashes to provide an energetic backbone to constantly transforming sheets of electronic waft and a free-sax wail. The percussive range is impressive, utilising deep bass drums which explode intermittently like bombs amongst cacophonous ringing bells and sharper snare-like clusters. Each of the three elements (percussion, electronics, saxophone) take it in turns to lead the proceedings leading to a varied soundscape which is brimming with dark futurism yet rooted in a traditional aesthetic.
‘Yatai Bayashi’ sees the trio take on John Coltrane’s ‘The Drum Thing’ in a highly ambitious effort that see’s his melancholy melodies placed in a mutant setting of spacious percussion with the muted mallet, cymbals and gongs pounding like they are on military duty. Towards the end of the piece, Yamami lets out a series of yelps known as ‘kakegoe’ before drums morph into precision electronic beats that shift across the soundscape like fast-moving alien insects exploring a new, lucrative terrain. After the hammering of previous tracks, the tribal percussion takes on a more muted role in ‘The Drum Thing’ with drawn-out ‘rainy New York night’ Sax melodies and deep wallowing bass motifs. A similar approach is initially undertaken on ‘Miyake’ with flailing Sax melodies sitting atop of hostile atmospheric skree. A bout of percussive rustling then flares out to hypnotic effect, accompanied by electronic beats which are difficult to decipher from the boisterous percussion.
Throughout the album, the tribal percussion creates a turbulent terrain which is fraught with intricacies both in terms of arrangement as well the contrast between low-end and treble heavy sounds. When electronic ‘beatscapes’ are intertwined into the mix, it adds a unique dimension to the sound and makes ones mind go into overdrive trying to decipher which sounds are natural and which are manipulated. Comparisons with HiM and Chicago Underground are inevitable as both groups fuse electronics with free-jazz to great effect but the electrifying tribal flair of Kioku makes them occupy a new and exciting space within the jazz locale. Thoroughly recommended.
Allaboutjazz.com, Celeste Sunderland
Kioku’s new album Both Far and Near is fiercely aggressive in its crusade for a powerful, liberated music that takes the great tradition of free jazz and steeps it in Japanese spirituality. Combining Taiko drum (Wynn Yamami), a massive instrument initially used on the battlefield, with saxophone (Ali Sakkal), electronics (Christopher Ariza) and other percussion, the trio immediately gives off a sense of outrageous liberation. Track one, “Pinari”, is an adaptation of a Korean prayer song. The tune’s tribal drumming pokes through long, abrasive saxophone lines while reverberating steel washes over it and electronics sweep the area clear with warped bursts. The group takes on John Coltrane’s “The Drum Thing”, interpreting Elvin Jones with meditative reverence. Percussion and electronics wrap gently around Sakkal’s saxophone before embarking on their own textured, rhythmic venture. “Binalig” features a mesh of gongs, hollow percussive sounds and the muffled chaos of a crowd, resulting in a brilliant track where fantastical rhythm dances with reality and atmosphere moves from frenzied turmoil to moody serenity. At times incredibly tribal, or futuristic, Both Far and Near takes an ancient tradition and infuses it with vast doses of the new.
Tokafi.com, Tobias Fischer
Improvisation, Jazz, Sound Art and traditional Asian music: A unique sound that smacks of the street and exotic mysteries of faraway countries.
Who or what is the devil? To some people, it’s impurity. They should try to stay clear of “both far and near”. From the darkness of smoke-filled late-night bars, from threedimensional Jazz memories of New York, from the mist-covered silence of a Japanese Zen temple and a teetering and hollering street parade on a tiny island in the South Pacific, Kioku have destilled a raw and futuristic vision of what the absurd term “World Music” can mean in the hands of those who shun the main streets, staying close to the pulse instead.
To arrive at such a sound, the trio has taken everything it likes about the here and now and infused it with oraculous murmors from long-gone times of glory: John Coltrane whispers from the grave in the eleven-minute “The Drum Thing”, a phantasmagorically pussyfooting trip into percussive timbres and sleepwalking sax, while Keith Jarret’s “Spirits 16” (from 1985) closes the album with polyphonic lines meeting at moments of bewildering harmonic confluence. In between, the ghosts of the past haunt the dreams of Korean prayer songs and pieces to accompany Shinto practices.
Improvisation, Jazz, Sound Art and traditional Asian music are the basis to “both far and near”, its title already openly referring to its long list of influences. It is not so much that the result from this mixture defies categorisation, but rather that no prefixed label could ever come close to describing what to expect. Maybe that is also the reason why Kioku have decided against signing with a regular or even progressive Jazz outfit and instead opted for Austin’s Quiet Design, whose still compact catalogue of five releases has already covered contemporary composition, electropop, experimental steel drum collages and amplified microsound.
Instead of wanting to be analysed, the album consequently begs to be experienced. Structures on “both far and near” are curved and bent to the extreme, arrangements marked by an organic balance between Wynn Yamami’s percussion, Ali Sakkal’s Horn erruptions and the noise textures flowing from Christopher Ariza’s machines – even though its lineup is as up-to-date as possible, Kioku have created a unique sound that smacks of the street and exotic mysteries of faraway countries. Despite the various parts each piece is made up of, the group maintains a furious energy level on most of the tracks, shattering each notion of confusing complexity with their powerful propulsion.
For an album so obviously impure and open to technological advances, “both near and far” sounds remarkably cohesive. Ariza’s seminal influence on the band’s sound mostly becomes apparent only on a second listen and is seldomly as apparent as on the acid groove of “Binalig” – instead, he transforms cymbal rushes into glistening pads, forces drums to digitally supercollide and adds cut-up field recordings. What is real and what is processed becomes irrelevant in an environment, in which sound can simply be sound and each musician is free to take on whatever position seems most complementary to the piece at hand.
There is a German saying which claims that the devil hides in details. If that be so, then he must have found a new home here. Behind each stroke of the Taiko, a soft wind strokes the ear’s membrane, behind every improvised sax solo lurks minutely planned structures. On the other hand, it is hard to believe that something this good should be so bad - Impurity certainly sounds pretty heavenly on “both far and near”:.