Nobody remembers Pungo. Tolerance? Certainly. Nord? Yes. Tenno? Yes. Inryofuen? Maybe. But Pungo? No.
Rewind. Tokyo 1980-81. The long-forgotten era of Prime Minister Suzuki, the Pope’s visit to Japan, Kurosawa’s “Kagemusha” and Chiyonofuji’s nascent dominance in sumo. This was still a pre-bubble economy, fast diversifying after the second oil shock.
Frequent attraction at Shinjuku’s ABC Hall, Pungo were essentially an idea of Yuriko Mukôjima (then Yuriko Kamba) and her friends, with Masami Shinoda among them. Unshackled by requirements of musical virtuosity and critical of the stubbornly conservative Japanese society, they easily co-opted like minded amateurs. Musically this implied the creation of austere, anthemic amalgams delivered in an egalitarian, colloquial fashion, amusingly covered up by genuine counter-culture convictions. The predilection for makeshift pathos of revolutionary hymns corresponded, belatedly, to European left-wing sensibilities, as evinced by Stormy Six or Sogennantes Linksradikales Blasorchester. But their musical idealism was informed by anti-aesthetics of post-punk.
Akihiro Ishiwatari and Pungo’s engineer Ken’ichi Takeda went on to launch an even more straightforwardly leftist A-Musik. They invited Shinoda. Pungo’s subversive spirit lived a little longer in the poorly documented supergroup Fake which co-opted the likes of Tenko, Chie Mukai and Keiji Haino. Sadly, Yuriko Mukôjima’s musical traces after 1981 were sporadic at best (Che Shizu, Lars Hollmer). The late Masami Shinoda continued on his folk-jazz and anti-jazz pathway. His art was to Tokyo what Curlew were to New York and Goebbels-Harth to Frankfurt.
After a curtain-raising sleigh bells jingle, accordion and bass intone a triste anthem. The melody emerges slowly like revolutionaries from their conspiratorial gathering. Painstakingly, Takashi Satô unearths his tympani meter. Masami Shinoda’s weathered, proletarian alto saxophone carries the burden of a somber, urban ballad. Yukio Satô’s ischaemic electric guitar fuzzes its way out of muck with adhesive anonymity.
In one of collective hallmarks, Pungo launches into kabuki-like melismas ingeniously followed by galloping drumstick work. Saxophone and guitar skronk jump in, setting the stage for Yuriko Kamba’s excoriating exclamations. Two female dancers apparently participated in this live show. It could be a French passepied, dependent on guitar and saxophone in latter-day Mahjun style. But the parenthesis does not last and the band quickly reverts to the very Shintoist ascetism of howl’n’drum. After a short silence, unconventional kabuki-like barking snaps at a cheaply romantic ballroom acoustic piano (Yuriko). The final belongs to the shaggy, contrarian guitar.
Mikai no tango
Yuriko Kamba’s singing adjusts to Meguo Hisashita’s tangoed drumming. The effort founders, torpefied by sudden hardcore blitz. Yuriko yells the text against a raucous band led by Shinoda. When the tango section returns, it does so in splashy, sloppy guitar chords. Shinoda’s aylerian alto improvises lacrimoso over the choppy dance from Richueala’s shores. Jirô Imai’s bass and Yuriko’s acoustic piano trudge wearily forward, but not for long.
Rather than “playing”, Yuriko drums piano keys in a rashly muted mode reminiscent of early Reportaz (NB, the recording is of equally poor sound quality). The performance is dramatic, barren and lackluster. Imai’s bass landslide selectively stresses the beat. After several austere repetitions, Shinoda intones the melody, but is quickly contested by the piano. A rather disjointed percussion duo of Akihiro Ishiwatari and Takashi Satô scuttles around with amateurish, chronically offbeat drumming. The racket keeps Shinoda’s lead from becoming too fluent and jazzy, but his hoarse manner continues to weave in the background, flanked by Yuriko’s irate shouting. Satô’s minimal, truncated guitar shales evoke the Contortionists’ Jody Harris from around the same time.
The now familiar kabuki howling is on this track exclusively female and less audacious than previously. When tribal drumming and bass fall into the groove, Shinoda improvises freely. The demoniac wailing vaticinates Kwaidan imagery, unaffected by unsophisticated bass ostinato and rather basic four-handed drumming. This is programmatically incompetent naïvism at its very best.
This memorable musical o-bento opens with a funky bass line and rotoreflective cymbal. The chorus will swing from branches, aping an echoing, loony line: “ouah-ouah-ouah”. A reggae-like guitar and a Pogues-type accordion give this bolero a very passé complexion. As usual, the saxophone is more agile than the rest of the skittery band. Yukiko keeps admonishing that we must not (“Ikenai”). An unexpected countdown – “one-two-three-four” – and a counterblast of saxophone, guitar and violin rises from this ash heap like a step pyramid. The band quickly returns to the funky groove, with the innocuously half-baked “ouha-ouah-ouah” and piano tremolos. But the countdown returns – and so does the tidal wall. The “reggae” guitar exits the scale and nothing appears in place anymore. The alternation between the “song” and the Sun Ra-like cacophonous ziggurats in increasingly rash and unpredictable. With each iteration, the band further purifies its exercise of deconstruction.
This is Pungo pared down to the co-leaders. Yuriko’s accordion is tuning in slowly, abandoned in the environment of daily crackle, chores and voices. Then, two saxophones and accordion deliver a harsh fanfare, through which Yuriko’s girly voice barely penetrates. This track was recorded live in Kyoto and Shinoda appears to be playing on two saxophones at the same time, Roland Kirk-way. An ocean of accordion harmonics waves gently, buoying the girly vocal. Until Shinoda’s squeal drowns out everything else.
After this duet, we have 14 taiko players rattling in this ingeniously entitled “New Theme”. We can detect discrete shamisen, but before the jumpy “new” theme becomes just another Okinawa song, a megaton wind orchestra swamps it – covering a range from piccolo to tuba. The guzzling big band emboldens the large chorus to sloganeer in the good old tradition etched in by the previous generation (early Tokyo Kid Brothers). When the wind instruments wilter, solo chanting and piano will dominate for a moment. The typhoon of taiko drumming and the crowded chorus wander on with their festive cheer about a traditional festival, tongue in cheek. Pungo assembled here an incredible array of talent for mere cameo appearances – several bass players, dancers and violinists, including Chihiro Saito from avant-prog anti-melodists Lacrymosa. This certainly was not the unique occasion. We know that Phew also sang live with expanded Pungo.
More of Iradier than Bizet, this is a farewell dance for saxophone and drum in slow, inevitable decay.
PUNGO: “1981-82” (1981-82)
A-Musik remains the closest in the spirit to Pungo. Shinoda’s later career blazed the trails of philosophical folk-jazz, but never lost its porous, unsettling quality. Pidgin Combo were an international effort with Tom Cora.
A MUSIK: “E ku iroju” (1983)
Takuya NISHIMURA – Masami SHINODA: “Duo” (1986)
PIDGIN COMBO: “Long Vacation” (1988-89)
COMPOSTELA: “Compostela” (1990)
COMPOSTELA: “Wadachi” (1991-92)
For Shinoda completists, his scraggy, prismatic alto can also be found on.
Kumiko SUYAMA: “Yume no hajimari” (1986)
CHE SHIZU: “Nazareth Live shû 1” (1983-1992)
MAHER SHALAL HASH BAZ: “From a Summer to Another Summer” (1985, 1989)
CASSIBER: “Live in Tokyo” (1992)
Yoshihide Otomo was Compostela’s fan. His Ground Zero also sampled Shinoda’s alto saxophone with Cassiber on the unforgettable classic “Kakumei Kyôgeki”:
GROUND ZERO: “Kakumei kyôgeki” (1995-96)