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Iro - Tamafuri

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Artist: Iro

Album: Tamafuri

Label: PSF

Review date: Aug. 7, 2008

There's a certain point where free music starts to overlap with noise, particularly when played with sufficient force or distortion. Really, what is noise but free playing taken to its logical extreme, pushing pure expressionistic sound to the forefront and throwing out considerations of form and melody? This is not to say that there isn't thought given to structure and development, as well as the interaction between sounds, especially when it's not a solo endeavor. Listeners not familiar with the breadth of noise artists often assume that it's completely random soundmaking, which is rarely, if ever, the case. Any meaningful noise performance follows some sort of path, even if it may be primarily a cathartic enterprise, and when pursued by more than one artist there's bound to be a give and take.

This reissue of a 1985 LP by Iro brings such thoughts to mind because it treads that thin line between free sound and noise, channeling free jazz improvisation through spirit-summoning ritual – it's not for nothing that the liner notes repeatedly refer to the duo as "shamanistic.” Writer Takeo Udagawa also refers to the music as a mix of Ornette Coleman and Patti Smith, jazz improvisation with a poetry-reading vocal style, but listened to with contemporary ears one may also imagine modern ensembles like Sunburned Hand of the Man.

Iro's a duo, guitarist/vocalist Shizuko Orimo and drummer Toshio Orimo. On the two side-long excursions documented on Tamafuri, they wend their way through stumbling percussion, calm floating and pounding tribal moments, but more often achieve a sort of controlled chaos. The duo weave a tapestry alternately dense and sparse: One moment will be filled with groaning guitar scrape and feedback-drowned squeal amidst crashing drum thuds and vocal spasms; then they'll fall into segments that are nearly silent, with sporadic cymbal washes and occasional guitar or vocal utterances. During the former, their outbursts can bring to mind New York's No Wave crowd, but for the fluid way in which they allow quiet calm to intrude.

Still, this is for the most part anarchic expression. Tamafuri translates as "soul shaking," which is an apt illustration of the feelings portrayed. This is rough, unedited improvisation, with no smoothed corners. The vocals will certainly remind some listeners of Hijokaidan, but there's a more measured delivery here: Shizuko Orimo isn't simply releasing spirits as does Hijokaidan's Junko. There's a message here, though even those who know Japanese will have a fair amount of trouble making out most of the vocals amidst the currents of noise and activity.

Apparently Iro moved into more tranquil waters soon after this release, bringing in more ethnic musical influences and Shinto rituals until by 1989 they'd moved fully into a shamanistic incarnation of stone flutes and dancing. While quite different from what's heard on Tamafuri, both are perhaps equally removed from mainstream music and thus not as divergent as they might seem at first. As the liner notes say, both reject modernity in favor of a state that "predates modern rationality."

In their continued efforts to explore the edges of music both old and new, P.S.F. Records has unearthed a rough gem here, and we're fortunate. I suspect this will be one of the year's more memorable releases among those who treasure a lack of rationality in their listening habits.

By Mason Jones

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