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Tetuzi Akiyama - Pre-Existence

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Artist: Tetuzi Akiyama

Album: Pre-Existence

Label: Locust

Review date: Oct. 16, 2005

Tetuzi Akiyama is a noted mainstay in Tokyo's improvised music community, and has generated a rather extensive discography in close to two decades of recording and performance. He's probably more known for his unique approach to the guitar than anything else, but his use of electronics and viola have also taken him into collaborative environments with the likes of Taku Sugimoto, Toshimaru Nakamura (with whom he organized the Meeting at Off Site monthly concert series), and even Keiji Haino for a brief spell as a member of the group Nijiumu. The sounds this man conjures are rich and varied, and would probably take an exhaustive article to properly delineate. The most important facet of his playing for our discussion here is his subtle and intuitive grasp of blues figures and phrases, something that he explored at length on his 2001 solo disc Relator (although the blues make up a noticeable chunk of his sound elsewhere as well).

Akiyama took a fine turn on Locust's 2003 Wooden Guitar compilation, as his sparse take on "Time Between" made his cohorts on that disc sounds positively apoplectic in comparison. Pre-Existence is his solo addition to that series. To say that Akiyama is indebted to silence would be a generous understatement. Negative space accounts for much of his playing, and as such forms an intriguing counterpoint to the sounds he wrangles from his acoustic guitar.

Stacked against his contemporaries in the Wooden Guitar compilation/series, Akiyama undoubtedly seems like the odd man out. His playing bears little to no resemblance to anything Takoma-related, nor does he stitch narrative through intricate finger-picking. Over the course of the eight short pieces that make up Pre-Existence, he focuses instead on individual notes and mangled chords, drawing everything out so that it hangs in the air. In other hands, such phrases would seem accidental or unintended. For Akiyama, however, these sounds form the crux of his performance.

He eschews linearity in extreme degrees, and when removed from familiar progressions, his playing evokes a distinct sense of discomfort. Melody and rhythm are left begging here, unrequited in the face of such slurred dynamics. Perhaps it's a treatise on the near-ubiquity of Fahey apings that make up a good portion of current "man with acoustic guitar" stylings (not like those are a bad thing). Then again, in light of its almost astounding similarity to Derek Bailey's Ballads record, maybe Akiyama is trying to unlearn the codas that have been ingrained in acoustic blues-based performance so that only the emotion remains.

When the clouds break and the harmony rains down briefly on tracks like "Fireside," the burst feels refreshing, almost as if the reservoirs are being replenished after the long drought of summer. But these moments are ultimately short-lived. Always a tease, Akiyama quickly segues them back into darker, more complex territory, leaving punctuating silences in between the stabs and gropes on his guitar as not-so-subtle reminders that all is not quite so well.

Tetuzi Akiyama's other solo release from this year was the infinitely soothing Route 13 to the Gates of Hell, a live disc that captured some of his more melodic moments alongside his intriguing forays into '70s rock minimalism that made up the bulk of the fantastic Don't Forget to Boogie LP from a couple of years ago. Pre-Existence is that record's counterbalance, full of dark and ominous textures and uneasy sounds that demand complete attention.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Akiyama has issued another great record that manages to sound nothing like the ones that came before it, and yet somehow still retains trace echoes of the singular clarity of his brilliant mind. If it's the likes of John Fahey and Robbie Basho that you seek, then turn elsewhere. Akiyama seems capable of speaking in no voice other than his own.

By Michael Crumsho

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