Introducing Katsura Yamauchi to American Audiences

Fresh from a 50 concert blitz through the wilds of North America with the shaman-rock of Old Time Relijun, frontman Arrington de Dionyso returns to his love of free improvisation with the bass clarinet and throatsinging, in duos with Japanese underground musician Katsura Yamauchi for a series of concerts in the Pacific Northwest. Arrington will perform bass clarinet and throatsinging, Katsura will perform on soprano and baritone saxophones. Katsura plays every member of the saxophone family, and he is renown for his intimate explorations of music in nature- he has made recordings of his saxophone playing while almost completely submerged in rivers-!

Katsura has been active in the free jazz scene in Japan for nearly three decades, and has played with many of the notable global improvisers such as Otomo Yoshihide, Toshinori Kondo, Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennink, Barre Phillips, and Michel Doneda, to name only a few. Katsura’s biography is especially interesting, as he was a businessman for a very important Japanese company for many years and chose to retire early with very little security to instead pursue his music exclusively without any regard for compromise.

An Interview with Katsura Yamauchi

(Improvised Music from Japan EXTRA 2003)
By Yoshiyuki Suzuki

It was last February that Katsura Yamauchi,a 40-something sax player residing in Oita,Japan,made his Tokyo debut at Off Site and Super Deluxe. In May he took off impulsively for Europe, where he ended up giving several live performances. In July, back in Japan, he released his debut solo CD, SALMO SAX. And it was just last October that he had left his job as a company “salaryman”! So who is this Katsura Yamauchi? I spoke with him at what was probably the most tumultuous time of his life.
YAMAUCHI: I was born in 1954 in Beppu,Oita prefecture, but lived in a lot of different places. I first heard jazz in my second year of high school. Then I started listening to modern jazz, and then to free jazz. I was so into it, it’s almost fair to say that the reason I went to college–in Matsuyama, in Shikoku–was to do Jazz. When I gladuated from high school, I decided I wanted to play an instrument, and bought a cheap alto sax. I thought the best kind of sax was a tenor, though, so I started playing a tenor sax that belonged to the university jazz club. But I couldn’t get a good sound out of it. It’s been that way ever since, and even now I don’t own a tenor. There was a period at university when I was playing only the soprano sax. After I finished college and moved to Oita, I started playing the alto more, and also started the sopranino. At the university I limmediately joined the jazz club, but it seemed to be on the verge of folding, so from the beginning I felt alone. Then in my second year, an older guy who’d been in the [free jazz association] New Jazz Syndicate came back, and that gave me some hope. He and I formed a band. There was another bandcalled ING, that played my own original pieces as well as free jazz. I also organized a 13-member orchestra made up of working people and students from other universities, and we played original compositions for two days at the university festival. In realty, though, I was alone. Only my ideas raced ahead –it wasn’t good at all. I had passion, but…At the end of my second year at university, my interest shifted from free jazz to free improvisation. At that time I got in touch with Akira Aida, and got involved in managing the concerts given in Matsuyama by overseas musicians he invited –people like Milford Graves, Derek Bailey, Tristan Honsinger, and Han Bennink. Not long after I started working at a company, I stopped doing music. There was four-year period when I wasn’t playing, and during that period I changed jobs and relocated to Oita City. But of course, I wanted to get back into music, so I found a bunch of people who played jazz, and formed a band. I wanted to do the kind of thing JCO [Jazz Composer’s Orchestra] does, where members play freely, with their sounds coming and going around a foundation of written music –but since none of the other members could read music, I didn’t attain that goal. The band stayed together for a year and a half. I’d always wanted to form an all-sax band, so I put together the band Salmo Sax. I was aiming for music that was played by amateur musicians, but that had world-slass originality; and for a style of composition that was like systematized improvisation. There were three or four sax players and one bassist, and the band continued for two or three years, with membership changes. In the end, though, all we did was play written music. After that, in desperation, I got 13 musicians together–three or four rhythm players and the rest sax players—and formed the band Sax Darakes -u. Half of what we played was existing music, and half original pieces. That band lasted about a year, too. That was a year or two ago. In my mind there’s always been a pairing of “improvisation” and “band” — “band” meaning composed works. For example, AACM [the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians], JCO, and ICP [Instant Composers Pool] all compose music and create their own world, right? That’s influenced me. What I learned from jazz and improvisation is “Make musik in your own way.” I don’t write great stuff or have strong concepts, by any means, but whenever I’ve wanted to do something, I’ve set it in motion myself. But the gap [between ideas and] reality is really large. I’ve formed a lot of bands, but…unlike in Tokyo, there are always a lot of problems in regional cities. This is going to sound arrogant, but you have to “bring up” [musicians in those cities]. None of them have the concept of making a new kind of musik. That’s a huge obstacle. And when the musicians that you’ve brought up leave, it’s the end of the band. But the band called Penampe, which I started ten years ago, is still going. The members are amateurs–they’re not brilliant musicians–but after ten years, they’re putting out some good sounds. Currently, all our tunes but one are originals. The formation is sax, guiter, bass, piano and drums, and we play free jazz and modal jazz. And about six months ago I formed Salmo Band with the bassist and the drummer from Sax Darakesu. I get the feeling these two are gaining an understanding of improvisations. Sometimes I reflect on my life so far, and think that I have to live in a better way. The fact that working at the company was getting tougher…my own body, my age…I think all these things came together to push me to quit. I felt I could imagine a time when I wouldn’t be able to make music anymore. It’s unbelievable to cancel a performance because of a meeting or a business trip, isn’t it? I thought, I’ve been working hard for 23 years–that’s enough. I’m 48 now. I know very well thatI can’t make a living with music. You could say that’s why I’ve been working for a company all this time. But as long as I’m doing that, I can’t be a musician. Anyway, the new phase is just beginning. I don’t think I can continue playing only in Oita [a city far from Tokyo, on the island of Kyushu]. So what I’m vaguely thinking is that I’d like to be able to divide [my performance activity] equally between Oita, Tokyo, and overseas. Ideally. All this time as a “salaryman,” I’ve lived a very limited kind of life. Now I’d like to gather the energy to throw off those limitations, and feel that what lies beyond them is music.
Yoyogi, Tokyo February 21,2003

Arrington de Dionyso uses performance as a vehicle for driving through the nameless territories held between surrealist automatism, shamanic seance, and the folk imagery of rock and roll. Arrington performs on the bass clarinet, jaw harps, plastic bags, rubber bands, and his voice with a distinctly multiphonic ability inspired by Tuvan throatsinging and the ecclesiastics of Albert Ayler and Don Van Vliet. Pushing the envelope between musicality and pure energy, between shamanic ecstacy and lunacy, he enwraps rooms with resonant sound. He tours constantly, and has performed or/and recorded with notable improvisers throughout the U.S.A., Canada, Italy, France, Israel and Japan. He presents workshops on improvising with the voice in conjunction with his travels around the world.

Author: James McQuiston

Ph.D. in Political Science, Kent State University. I have been the editor at NeuFutur / neufutur.com since I was 15. Looking for new staff members all the time; email me if you are interested. Thanks!

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