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Toshimaru Nakamura + Ken Ikeda + Tomoyoshi Date: Green Heights (Baskaru)

This unlikely trio combines three very different experimental aesthetics into one strangely complementary whole. I’ll mention up front that I wouldn’t consider this music for everyone. Even with my own inclination toward unusual sounds and textures, it can test my patience. The five movements of Green Heights are rather focused on microtonal nuances in high pitched drones and tones, often incorporating near-supersonic frequencies and shrill fragments of noise and sound. But while Toshimaru Nakamura’s no-input mixing desk creations can be quite severe on their own, when complemented by Ikeda’s lighter touch and Date’s toy instruments and recordings, they take on a more playful and jubilant quality. I liken the vibe to the playfulness that might lurk in a day-lit room where children are supposed to be napping but instead are playing quietly. The five pieces that comprise Green Heights are each named “Balcony,” split into 3 movements with a couple additional sub-divisions. At its most successful, the trio work together to create rather serene stretches of pastoral ambience and texture that are more layered than they may at first seem. “Balcony II” features a variety of high-pitched tones and drones, sometimes airy and light while at others fairly raw, that hover overhead Date’s toy piano and chimes. Opener “Balcony I – alpha” starts things off rather deliberately introducing its players’ roles with clear toy piano and acoustic sounds (Date), tuneless but textured mixing board feedback (Nakamura) and a light, shimmering surface layer of sound (Ikeda). In its final moments, Nakamura’s feedback takes center stage in a way that feels assertive but not confrontational. That piece’s second half, “Balcony I – ß,” is probably the most difficult listening of the series for me, with its last half consisting of what sounds like a wheezy, detuned recorder and feedback drones all vibrating with tension. Only in the final track “Balcony III – ∂” does this set take a truly “musical” shape, with Nakamura’s squelching, high feedback complementing a rather sweet and serene lullaby from Date. That musicality subsides for its middle stretch, where high pitched frequencies and drones meander in and out of one another, but some delicate melodic piano tones resurface to bring the album to a more peaceful closure, recalling the more gentle, musical ambience of Date’s work as part of Illuha. The trio named the pieces of the album after Date’s sixth floor apartment balcony, where they spent time talking, drinking, and collaborating. The warm spirit of that collaboration comes through on Green Heights even in its more obtuse moments, providing a sometimes elusive but confident wink toward the joy that underpins this music. (Note for US customers: the mp3 release on Amazon is a steal!)

Buy it: Boomkat | iTunes | Amazon