Licht-Akiyama Trios Tomorrow Outside Tomorrow

[Editions Mego; 2016]

Styles: noise, jazz, guitar
Others: Mark Rothko

As sound artists, one of the fascinations shared by Tetuzi Akiyama (Tokyo guitarist and violinist) and Alan Licht (the musician, writer, and longtime NYC noise scene fixture) is the physicality of distorted guitar sound. Akiyama has examined the geology of distorted guitar sound — its grittiness, its grain, its sediment — in the context of the 1970s boogie rock sound of bands like AC/DC and Foghat. “My focus is […] on the tone they make, the sound of the beautifully distorted electric guitar,” Akiyama once said. Licht, as both critic and guitarist, has explored the spaces first opened by Glenn Branca, Sonic Youth, and La Monte Young, artists who demonstrated the ability of sound to define space. His recent work, like 2013’s Four Years, is about creating sound so massive and dense it threatens to not only fill every corner of space, but to also collapse on itself like a black hole.

Naturally, only a solitary guitarist can create something so consuming; on Tomorrow Outside Tomorrow, Akiyama and Licht repel each other’s noise, like oppositely charged particles. The effect is infinite space rather than infinite mass. It’s a room a listener can inhabit, constantly in flux but contained. The streaming of the guitars approximate the dimensions of a room the same way the lines in a Rothko painting subconsciously become oceanic floors, glowing red windows, sky-yellow ceilings. The two pieces presented here are also rooms, in the sense that they affirm our subjectivity as listeners, grounding us.

But they’re also uncomfortable; the ceiling shifts, the walls dance. On “Blues Deceiver,” the first of the two pieces, Licht, Akiyama, and guest guitarist Oren Ambarchi create an environment of scraping and chiming, while uneasy overtones streak through the mix, disrupting its foundations. These overtones come from without rather than within, and as the piece builds, they accumulate and harmonize morbidly, a howling of coyotes, disturbing the boundaries between menace and desolation. They are like singers of an alternate blues, building toward release naturally, without the contrivances of, say, a boogie rock band. The release arrives and passes. The walls and floors shake and warp, but they hold.

The room of “Tomorrow Outside Tomorrow” is calm by comparison, nursery-like. One guitar is fingerpicked gently, softly rocking back and forth, disrupted here and there by little gulps in the sound. The other guitar — there’s no telling who is playing what here, which is appropriate to the atmospheric nature of the recordings — moans softly, in weak little breaths. As the minutes pass, the moaning turns into a howl, high and pained. Unlike in “Blues Deceiver,” though, the sound doesn’t build into a knd of stormy release. Instead, the guitars dissipate; another pans in, lightly, almost conventionally strummed, introducing Rob Mazurek’s cornet, which strides into the piece with a smooth, conversational solo line. Mazurek’s tone, rich and sweet, is pretty but sonically misplaced, contrasting starkly against the graininess of Licht and Akiyama. But even more, it evaporates the space the guitarists have created for the listener. When Mazurek plays, Licht and Akiyama are accompaniment. When he stops for a period, the piece feels emptier, defined by the lack of Mazurek’s voice rather than our own experience of shifting space. Licht and Akiyama make a good pair, alternately dissolving and repelling each other in order to create a listener-centric musical space; Tomorrow Outside Tomorrow succeeds the most when it accommodates our perspective, rather than inviting in the clarity of a soloist.

Links: Licht-Akiyama Trios - Editions Mego

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