Improvised Music from Japan /Deluxe Improvisation Series

About the Series

by Brett Larner

It's been about a year and a quarter now since I got an e-mail from a guy named David Yarrington asking about the possibility of having improvised music shows at a space called Deluxe in the Azabu Juban area of Tokyo. Deluxe itself is a large gallery in a converted warehouse leased by a pharmacy, architecture and graphic design companies, as well as by the Tokyo Brewing Company, a small microbrew run by Dave and Mike Kubeck. I went down to check the place out and was really impressed. The high, peaked ceiling, large size of the room (seating capacity of about 100), sound system, video projection equipment, and the mobility of Deluxe's interior walls and seating made it unique in my experience of Tokyo venues. I left Japan shortly thereafter for a month and a half to play some shows in the States and got to thinking. When I came back I talked to several people about the possibility of starting a monthly series. It was a few months, though, before guru Yoshiyuki Suzuki asked if I'd be willing to have Italian saxophonist Gianni Gebbia as the first performer in the series. That first show, March 3, 2000, went well and I began scheduling additional performances, sometimes including myself as a performer, sometimes not. Things were a bit rocky at first, with no show in May and scheduling difficulties in trying to host duos Kevin Drumm with Taku Sugimoto and Joseph Jarman with Sabu Toyozumi. Still, the situation improved. I didn't really expect to have people like John Fahey, Evan Parker, or Yuji Takahashi playing in what I originally imagined to be a fairly medium-profile series.

Unlike other monthly improvisation series around the greater Tokyo area like the Meeting at Offsite and the Barber Fuji series, the Deluxe Improvisation Series doesn't have a regular night each month or a specific format to the shows. These tend to vary based on who's around and when Deluxe is available. In selecting performers I've tried to avoid any scenesterism; all the shows so far have been very different, not representative exclusively of one segment of the Tokyo improv scene or, for that matter, of one particular form of improvised music. Maybe that's the best description of what the series is about; you're guaranteed to hear music created in some aspect at the moment of experience, but this could come in any form, from a spontaneous meeting of musicians who have never played together before to a rigorous exploration of Korean rhythmic structures to a group creating ad lib collage formings of notated material. In the same vein, each show has used Deluxe's flexible space in a different way in terms of the relationship between audience and performer. The second and fourth performances in particular included elements which I would like to continue to exploit in future shows; the second show included dancer Eri Majima in the center of the floor and the fourth show, at Yuji Takahashi's behest, saw the performers arranged in a circle around the room with audience seating both inside and outside the circle. Following the lead of Majima's performance, I hope to have more events including nonmusical elements. Sometimes exhibitions are in progress in the space, as with Tetsu Saitoh's solo performance during an exhibition of the amazing rugs designed by Deluxe-residing graphic design company Namaiki. All the shows in the series are recorded, and I plan to produce two series CDs in summer 2001 with selections from each performance, both discs to be released at a weekend-long Deluxe Improvisation Festival in mid-July. Stay tuned.

Last updated: October 12, 2000