Hisato Higuchi's debut CD, last year's She, was an intriguing blend of gentle guitar, field recordings and electronics that showed an individualistic style despite the wide range of offerings. On this new release, he presents a more cohesive set of live recordings. At just 35 minutes, it's more an EP than an album, but in these times of excessive 80-minute yawners I applaud the self-editing.
The first three songs of the six are brief solo guitar works, uniformly contemplative and simple. From single notes to subdued strums and the occasional wordless vocal, it's all quiet enough that at times you can hear the audience shift or cough. Somehow those sounds add rather than detract from the almost confessional atmosphere.
"Hate" (probably romanized Japanese meaning "horizon" rather than the English word) is a nine-minute piece pulled from two different shows with drummer Yoshihisa Suzuki. It begins with just the guitar; slow, reverbed notes – muted, almost muddy. The piece remains ghostly, with Suzuki primarily adding gentle cymbal brushings and occasional light drum taps. "Manazashi," the other piece with Suzuki, is 10 minutes and get much denser as Higuchi's guitar achieves a distorted intensity that somehow fills the sound field without accelerating the pace: Feedback, fuzz, and brief arpeggios in and around moments of slim single notes and tentative drum hits.
The seven-minute "Hikari No Rakka" features a forceful but skeletal guitar, with stronger leads that aren't as ghostly as most of these songs. Consisting of two live recordings with sampler player Sadafumi Sugai, it's difficult to tell what's sampler and what's guitar. Especially during the song's quieter moments, the hums and strums could be from either player.
As a documentation of Higuchi's live shows, this short album demonstrates a strong control of atmosphere and evocation of a ghostly feeling, but at the same time it lacks the focus of his previous release. As is to be expected from what are seemingly improvised sets, there are moments of illumination tempered by occasionally aimless wanderings. The shorter solo pieces, not surprisingly, are more effective in communicating succinctly and moving on. That isn't to say, of course, that the longer tracks are without their rewards. Their shadowy atmosphere is evocative, but they need either the focus of the shorter pieces or the breadth of experimentation of his previous album's longer tracks.
By Mason Jones
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