Tokyo-based whack jazz guitarist, turntablist, composer, arranger and knob twiddler Otomo Yoshihide has been called the John Zorn of Japan for his love of combining experimental sounds with avant-garde jazz. And to my ears, there's not much there to dispute the comparison, for better or for worse. His fascination with sine waves can be mind expanding or head splitting depending on your disposition toward high pitched electronic sounds, but with Otomo, you can almost always expect to be surprised.
For someone who built his reputation on noise rock and minimalist experimentalism, Yoshihide surprised again by assembling a New Jazz Quintet in 2001 that combined progressive jazz standards with Otomo's bent for combining anything with unconventional noises. Four years later, the Quintet was replaced by a larger New Jazz
Orchestra and by the time 2005 was over, Otomo had released two NJO records.
The second of these was a project that took some sack to undertake: a song by song recreation of Eric Dolphy's sacred Out To Lunch. You might recall Out To Lunch being discussed and revered in this space as one of the greatest "Swan Songs" albums in jazz.
The "Orchestra" name tells you that Yoshihide tackled Dolphy's material with a much larger configuration of musicians than the quintet employed by Dolphy himself. But as Andrey Henkin of All About Jazz accurately points out, the NJO "is not a big band, but a loose amalgamation of distinct voices." Henkin goes on to explain that this is an important characteristic, as the highly arranged nature of a big band couldn't do Dolphy's unencumbered compositions any justice. Added to the original instrumentation of bass clarinet, vibes, trumpet bass and drums are piano, sho (a rare Japanese reed instrument), baritone sax, electronic devices and Otomo's electric guitar. The lineup is a mix of Japanese and European veteran jazz musicians.
A bizarre lineup of instruments like this one assures that these renditions will not be confused with the originals. That said, the arrangements on all five compositions bear some significant amount of semblance to the 1964 classic with the exception of "Gazzelloni", which is why we are singling out that track this week. For much same reason I relish Nels Cline's incongruous collision of styles that he employed for Andrew Hill's "Compulsion", so too I have a fondness for Otomo's brutal punk-rock treatment of Dolphy's already chaotic "Gazzelloni".
Unlike the other selections,Yoshihide altogether chucks Dolphy's sometimes-there, sometimes-not time signature in favor of a quick-paced rock beat you'd find on just about any Ramones song while Otomo's guitar's fury is unleashed. The horn section blasts out the song's recognizable chorus but with such an intensity as to barely hold it together before each of the horn players take turns providing brief but fiery solos (the baritone sax guy would have certainly made Zorn smile in approval). A return back to the head and at 4:19 the song abruptly ends. They had to have about run out of gas at that point, anyway.
If you're reasonably alert, you'll pick up the high register electronic noise throughout the track. It really neither enhances nor degrades the tune, but it does serve to signify still further that Yoshihide won't remake anybody else's song without adding his own imprint to it. Otomo is not a timid musician, and his treatment of Eric Dolphy's Out To Lunch in general and "Gazzelloni" in particular attest to his fearless approach.
"One Track Mind" is a weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too.