Le Silo is a highly accomplished trio of Miyako Kanazawa (piano and voice), Yoshiharu Izutsu (guitar and voice) and Michiaki Suganuma (drums and voice). They exploded suddenly in 2003 with a groundbreaking “8.8”, instantly setting a new standard for the avant-prog idiom. The trio masterfully combined an irreverent attitude to Japanese and international classics with a penchant for sudden mood alteration. Unlike many bands evolving in this style, Le Silo opted for a skeletal instrumentation dominated by the acoustic keyboard sound. The pace is often frenetic and the compositions are plagued by calculated discontinuity; chopped up into contrastive subsections.
Among the myriad of ideas ranging from aggressive assaults to disjointed improvisations, there are also unexpected moments of melancholy deriving from the experiences of impressionistic European jazz. It is not clear if this is an erudite exercise de style, or a convergence of genres, a quarter of century later.
Undeniably, Le Silo belongs today to Japan’s foremost acts.
The opening of the record is loud, but rather unassuming. A robust piano, a defiant guitar, and accretive drums… A context not heard since the heyday of Cartoon… But we are in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. We begin to recognize the female and male voices. After a spell of silence the trio unleashes its raw power, propelled by the vehement piano invasions. This will remain the band’s signature throughout this recording.
Miwaku no Hawaii no ryokoo
Aloha, or just about. If that trip to Hawaii was so “fascinating”, then it must have been one of the honeymooners’ group tours where bored newlyweds are forced to impersonate Presley songs… The obsessive, ugly tune here competes for Lebensraum with a crackly old vinyl record, but the chorus is thousands of miles away from the Pacific – an impotent, effete, indifferent wailing à la 1980s’ Reportaz. The mixing is opaque and soupy. The band breaks free through this self-imposed patina but fails to develop a melody. Instead, it rushes through a polymetric gallery of constructivist scraps until the main guitar theme returns, calling the absurd chorus back.
After some very Nippon-style vocal interjections from Miyako Kanazawa, we are accosted by a duo of crude, unrefined piano and drums. The keyboard will intone a simple figure, mellowed down by a jazzy drum. When the song reaches its dynamic peak, the non-sensical, anti-climactic chorus returns, resolutely shattering the tense build-up. It is up to the guitar to pick up the pieces. Miyako’s soprano squeaks down from all the structural bridges.
Nichiyoo no hiruma ni doa wo tataite okosanaide (ryaku shite nokku)
“Don’t knock on the door on Sunday to wake me up”, proclaims the title, but the knocking is exactly what we hear. This transmutes into a drum intro for a very competent fuzz guitar. When it weans itself from the harmonic role for the melo-rhythmic piano, Yoshiharu Izutsu’s guitar can barely escape comparisons with Bondage Fruit’s Kido Natsuki. It will excise melodic notes with a kamikaze velocity, but then a classicist solo piano and cymbals will calm it with a dose of melancholia. The nap does not last. The ‘knock-knock’ is a wake up call for an angry, caustic guitar. The indignant piano line reminds us here of Miyako’s jazz contemporary Hiromi in her more classicist ventures.
Ura ru*shi I…
The first of the three improvisations in which, according to the description, the three musicians swap the instruments. While the drums appear lost for direction (Izutsu), the coincidental vibrations uniting the guitar and the piano are of some interest.
A first track under this title can be found on Le Silo’s first CD and together they are Michiaki Suganuma’s only compositional contributions thus far. This one begins with a percussive entrée, followed by a very mystical right-hand keyboard arpeggio. It approaches us slowly, building up tension while the cymbals remain almost imperceptible. Before we are forgiven for thinking that this is a Rainer Brüninghaus recording, the guitar theme will be laid out, sketching sluggish monumental scales against those scuttling piano lines. The piano will eventually take over the lead. All along, Suganuma’s percussion constructs a four-dimensional structure, busily welding, riveting, filing, piling and forging his cantilevered decorations.
A barely understood English text is instantly exposed to a whispered reaction from a woman. Soon after, Miyako Kanazawa’s composition plunges into a staccato, reinforced by a Zeuhlish choir. Several sequences will follow in this tight, perfectly immiscible track. Here, and here only, Miyako’s voice evokes Jun Togawa’s memorable Guernica moments. The progression is unstoppable; distorted vocal fragments, smooth guitar gables and pilasters, and zeuhlish choirs all advance like a regiment of condemned slaves. Impressive.
This “Snake Dance” starts with a very nimble guitar narrative, and a rolling drumset. The piano is given a lot of freedom for an almost swinging solo against the rattling skins. The level of complexity rises here, as the guitar chokes, piano hiccups and drums belch at competitive speed. Miyako’s keyboard enters an atonal territory without ever sounding like a Cecil Taylor’s derivative. The guitar will waddle in an unusual, heavy bass timbre. These are spacious, illustrative fragments, as if destined to quote from Bill Frisell, Steve Tibbetts and, inevitably, Terje Rypdal. But Izutsu’s sustain is shorter and the drummer is far more intrusive than Jon Christensen ever was. Against the racket, the piano is anabolic, but it becomes very shy on its own. Eventually, the initial theme returns, despite the attempts to re-phrase it through a brief drum solo.
Ura ru*shi II
A very abstract piece, more accomplished than “Ura ru*shi I”. The exact consonance of the guitar and piano leaves some doubt if this is a pure improvisation, or a replay of an earlier idea.
Izutsu’s beautiful tune has been scored adeptly for crystalline piano, circumspect electric guitar and brushes. It is evocative, brooding, sentimental and almost ECM-ish. This time, Rypdal’s “Odyssey” ghosts are with us for longer. The texture is sprayed out, undulating and wavy. When the piano takes over, one really wonders if engineer Norihide Washima grew up on Jan Erik Kongshaug’s daily staple. The last sequence is a stroll through an abandoned, rainy cityscape – a strikingly cinematic theme. Asia’s best film directors – from Hirokazu Koreeda to Hou Hsiao Hsien – should take note.
This track consists of three spokes, as if wiggling perversely toward the hub. First we hear the voice of someone asking directions (a food stall?) A rather shrewish sounding female explains. Are we in Osaka? Then we hail Chopinesque chords crashing through the spiky wall of drums – the US band Cartoon comes to mind again. In another twist, we hear a traditional Japanese song, quickly distorted into an Alboth-like piano/drums attack. The guitar will reproduce the plaintive song’s theme but will need to ascend and descend against the sonorous grindcore tsunami. The vocals meddle, hysteric and over-the-top. Is this Prince Dracula at the piano? Spine-chilling, bowel-wrenching, frightening! The short syllables are being belched out by the chorus, reminding us of Koenjihyakkei’s most galvanizing moments.
Ura ru*shi III
Acoustic guitar only. Kore de owari desu.
When Le Silo’s debut was issued in 2003, it was greeted as a revelation. It remains an absolute classic to this day. This second opus follows in its footsteps, although I do miss Tatsuya Yoshida’s crystal-clear production at Koenji Studio, so apparent on the first record. Sonic Asymmetry can’t wait for more.
LE SILO: “8.8” (2003)
LE SILO: “3.27830” (2006)