Improvised Music from Japan / Kazuhisa Uchihashi


Electric guitarist

Kazuhisa Uchihashi was born in Osaka in 1959. He started playing guitar at the age of 12, and played in folk and rock bands in junior high and high school. While a student at Osaka University of Foreign Languages, he learned jazz technique and started playing in clubs and studios. Since about 1983 he has actively developed music centered on free improvisation, and expanded the possibilities of the electric guitar by innovating various sound effects.

In 1988, Uchihashi joined First Edition, a jazz-oriented improvisational band formed by drummer Yasuhiro Yoshigaki. (The band is still in existence: besides Uchihashi and Yoshigaki, it now includes trombonist Yutaka Ohara, sax players Hiroyuki Shiotani and Eiichiro Arasaki, and bassist Osamu Mihara.) In Osaka in 1990, Uchihashi and Yoshigaki formed the band Altered States with electric bassist Mitsuru Nasuno. They played jazz clubs initially, but soon began to feel the jazz category was limiting. While retaining the original trio format (often adding a guest musician), they have pursued a freer group improvisation style, incorporating rock textures. Altered States has played at a number of music festivals in and out of Japan, including the Tokyo New Jazz Festival in 1992; the Tallinn (Estonia) International Festival and the Vilnius (Lithuania) Jazz Festival (both featuring turntable and guitar player Yoshihide Otomo) in '93; the Tactlos Festival in Switzerland, Tokyo Noise Core at the Knitting Factory in New York, the Festival Musique Actuelle in Victoriaville, Canada, and the Fourth International Now Music Festival Sapporo (Japan) in '95; festival Beyond Innocence in Kobe and the Yokohama Jazz Promenade in Japan in '96; and in '97, the Ring Ring Festival in Belgrade, and the LMC Festival in London. In 1994 and '97 they played in Japan with alto sax player Ned Rothenberg.

In addition to Altered States and First Edition, Uchihashi is a member of the following bands in the Kansai area (which includes Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto): bassist Hiroshi Funato's free improvisation trio EQ (with marimba and percussion player Mari Era), and the jazz trio Triopunk (with drummer Tatsuhiko Takeda). In Tokyo, Uchihashi is also a member of Stereodrome, with Hideaki Sasaki (videos and electronics) and Junji Hirose (noise-machine and sax); and he was a member of Yoshihide Otomo's group Ground Zero from '94 to '97. As a member of Ground Zero, he played at: the Tactlos Festival in Switzerland, Tokyo Noise Core at the Knitting Factory in New York, the Festival Musique Actuelle in Canada, and the Fourth International Now Music Festival Sapporo (Japan) in '95; the Angelica Festival in Italy, the Ring Ring Festival in Belgrade, and the LMC Festival in London in '97.

Uchihashi is also enthusiastic about collaborating with vocalists. He has performed with vocalist Shizuru Ohtaka on numerous occasions: at the WOMAD (World Music and Dance) Festival in Yokohama in 1992 and '93; at Le Printemps de Bourges in France and at the Tokyo Gracious Beat in Indonesia in '94; and at festival Beyond Innocence '96 in Kobe. In order to develop creative vocal music, Uchihashi organized the project KAM-PAS-NEL-LA with vocalist Haco, drummer Samm Bennett and electric harp player Zeena Parkins for the first Music Merge Festival in Tokyo and festival Beyond Innocence '96, both held in October '96.

Uchihashi enjoys working in other artistic genres as well. He has a close association with the Osaka theater group Ishin-ha, having served as the musical director and an accompanying musician in the following productions: Scrap Opera (1989), ECHO ('90), Shonen-gai ('90), Nostalgia ('93), MAP ('94), Aozora ('94 and '95), BABEL ('95). Romance ('96), and Nampu ('97). He participated with Ishin-ha in the Tokyo International Theater Festival in '92 and the Harumi Theater Festival (in Tokyo) in '93.

In addition, he has been involved in making sound tracks for the following films: Dodonpa Musume Kawa wo Iku in 1988; and in 96, Tetto Musashino-sen and, with Otomo, the Hong Kong movie Kitchen. He has also performed with a number of dancers, painters and poets.

Uchihashi has had many opportunities to play with non-Japanese musicians. In 1993, he toured Europe with guitar and daxophone player Hans Reichel. (The tour included their performance at the 25th Free Music Workshop in Berlin.) They also played together in Japan in '91 and '97. In '96 Uchihashi toured Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao with Otomo, sampler player Sachiko M, and Samm Bennett. In October '97, he visited Graz, Austria to play at the Musikprotokoll festival with Roger Turner (drums, trash), Heinz Ditsch (bassoon), and Helge Hinteregger (sax, sampler, tapes). Other musicians with whom he has played are bassist Barre Phillips, alto sax player Kang Tae Hwan, trumpeter Leo Smith, tenor sax player Peter Brötzmann, violinist Jon Rose, vocalist Lauren Newton, guitarists Eugene Chadbourne, Derek Bailey and Elliott Sharp, and many others.

As both a musician and an organizer, Uchihashi is working hard to build a network of free improvisation communities inside and outside Japan. In 1992 he started his own label, Zenbei Record, on which he has released CDs and videos of his solos and of Altered States. Since '95 he has been holding a monthly free improvisation workshop called New Music Action, mainly at the Kobe club Big Apple. In founding the workshop (which consists of two sessions--the first session for amateur musicians and the second session for amateurs and professionals to play together), Uchihashi aimed to build a nurturing environment for talented musicians, and also to join these musicians in the creation of great music. Besides Kobe, New Music Action has been held in Sapporo, Yamaguchi, Yokohama, Tokyo, and London. Currently it is being held regularly mainly in Kobe, and also in Tokyo under Uchihashi's direction, and Sapporo under the direction of pianist Ryoji Hojito.

Some of the young musicians in New Music Action have gained a wider reputation, and have played in bands formed by Uchihashi. In '96 Uchihashi formed Feel Jazz, a relatively jazz-oriented trio, with bassist Makoto Inada and trumpeter Masafumi Ezaki; and in '97 he formed the experimental band Phantasmagoria, cosisting of six musicians including Ezaki, Inada, Takeshi Kojima (sampler), Ko Iwata (sax), and Yoshimitsu Ichiraku (drums, effects), besides Uchihashi.

In October of both '96 and '97 Uchihashi was the executive producer of the two-day festival Beyond Innocence, held in Kobe. The festivals were very successful, with about 50 Japanese and non-Japanese musicians featured each time.

Last updated: January 18, 1998