was born March 1, 1955 in Kokura, Fukuoka prefecture, Japan. His first drumming experience was at the age of four, when he played a traditional Japanese drum at the Kokura Festival. He began playing the western drum set at 15. It was around this time that he also started listening to jazz and studying the drumming of jazz masters such as Max Roach, Art Blakey and “Philly” Joe Jones.
lt’s difficult to begin at the beginning and to resist the temptation to go back even further. So: I heard William Parker and Shoji Hano with Peter Brötzmann for the first time in 1988 at the FMP Festival in Berlin.
I admit I feIl asleep, because l had just traveled non-stop from Graubünden to Berlin; despite 900 kilometers’ worth of Intercity coffee and Radebergers, I was really just an unconscious body taking up space. In 1990, there was this untogether gig at the Rote Fabrik in Zürich with Cecil Taylor, Gunter Hampel, Tony Oxley and William Parker. “Was it controversial?” William wanted to know a year later, as we barreled down the autobahn together in Brötzmann’s März-Combo band bus. In autumn 1995, It so happened that William and Hano were traveling around Europe independently.
The idea came to me in a flash and yes, both of them had the time and the desire to do a few concerts with me in Switzerland. Malans-Manhattan-Tokyo was the global tag. And so we three rambunctious musicians were off, and we got a warm reception everywhere. Only in Chur, on my own turf, did I have to organize the concert myself. We played for the door, and many of the listeners waited at the entrance until the break or until the cash register was cleared away. I’m pretty thin-skinned writing about this, obviously. There were about eight concerts, each one like living on the crest of a wave. In “Kreuz” Nidau, Hans Koch and Nartin Schütz added to the frenzy. Afterwards, we went to the Zürich Radio studio to record our “Crossing the Boundaries of Affection”. Wrong. The truth is that we went right into the studio after we met at the Zürich train station: we made the half-hour long piece of music on this CD without ever having played with each other before. A clear case of “serendipity”–a word created by Horace Walpole (1754) after the Three Princes of Serendip, who had a talent for chancing upon fortunate, unexpected discoveries on their journeys. Thank you William! Domo arigato, Hano-san!
After the small tour in Switzerland, Hano invites me to do an eight-concert, six-city tour in Japan. And I encounter a society where achieving communality by renouncing conflict is a recipe for living. The third concert in Tokyo, (excerpted on this CD), is at the Shinjuku Pit Inn and is announced as “Werner Lüdi Night”. Hano had invited Tetsu Yamauchi. Tetsu speaks a singing Cockney English–he lived in London for several years, went through wild times with Ginger Baker. Even today, at fifty, he still is a passionate sake drinker. Hano is the opposite, doesn’t smoke or drink. I watch him as he mentally prepares for the concert in the tiny dressing room. Headstand, stretching exercises, breath and attack techniques. He bandages up his forearms, puts on ricestraw sandals and a richly-embroidered vest, a headband.
Hano wants to start with a duo. Hano and I stand across from each other; like a sumo wrestler he conjures up space with wide-reaching hand movements, snorting bursts of breath, a piercing scream–there’s a first hit on the drum, a roar from my baritone depths, and beat by beat the Shinkansen, Japan’s buIlet on rails, begins to move. The first set lasts about 70 minutes, a 20 minute break, two cups of green tea; then the second set, no less turbulent, takes off. Hano changes his T-shirt every 15 minutes. At times he’s beside himself, his eyes bulge out, he bends and writhes and shrieks his lungs out. Tetsu, very drunk, lays a frenzied bassline through the typhoon, Hano pounds his drums as if he wants to unleash a seaquake. The lightning strikes, so suddenly piercing, and before there’s time for a second thought, comes the thunder of the shock wave. “lt’s amazing that we’re still alive”, I think. The 60 people in the club are going wild, some of them have danced through both sets.
On the way back to the hotel, Hano invites me to a midnight meal of noodles. He wants to know how I liked it. “Oh, it definitely had ‘ki’.” He corroborates: “In Japan, ‘ki’ is right up there when it comes to music. Or in the martial arts, healing arts, and so on, ‘ki’ is energy.” I say that in Europe, we have a difficult time understanding ‘ki’. “What you call ‘ki’ we often wrongly view as being strongman stuff, as letting yourself go wild,” I state, “but I would rather that we speak of abandon.” Hano starts to write something on a beer mat. After a while, he hands me the cardboard. On it is a haiku, one of those I7-syllable poems whose form the Japanese learn from childhood. Hano says slowly: Mitsubachiwo osoreru hanani miwa naranu”. Translated: Have no fear of bee. Blossoms that feel fear of bees will never bear fruit.”
I’m flabbergasted. So that’s how lnsecurity is simultaneously allayed and stirred up again with l7 syllables. Hano: “A good haiku contains a million associations. Every person must interpret it for themselves–with the heart. For you (Westerners) it’s about reason, with us it’s more the feeling.” And his features assemble themselves into that multi-purpose smile that l would come to know well sitting during the next two weeks. The sky over Tokyo is the color of a TV screen tuned to a dead channel. We’re around in our hotel room in Akasaka, a quiet, almost tranquil neighborhood. I would like to know what my Japanese musician friends think of the music scene in their country. “To simplify it somewhat”, Tetsu begins, “in Japan, we have two directions–besides all the plastic crap that exists all over the world. First there is New Wave. Actually a ‘high-tech’ romanticism, that stands for sexual liberation, natural foods, bucolic tendencies, personal empowerment, cultural pluralism and stylistic experimentation. The New Wave doubts, of course, that the rise in science and technology contributes to the betterment of the human condition.
So it’s more an ‘Old Wave’.” Laughter. “On the other hand”, Hano takes over, there are the audacious punks. They’re the hard-working on-stage technocrats who are making full use of the real world of science and technology, of reality at the end of the twentieth century. Taking drugs enhances musical creativity, the physical sacrifices are accepted. The linkage of electronic amplification with chemically pumped-up people can be classified as a technology. That is, electronic amplification and consciousness-expanding drugs have changed the human psyche and perception. The music corresponds: super-loud and completely crazy. We’re not at all horrified by this, we see it as positive.” “So these are the cyberpunks?” I contribute. “It’s more than that–through science and technology we will one day encounter the aliens, and they will be us.” Again his multi-purpose smile. This time I think that I can interpret it: Where else, it says with pride, but in my country, can you be in the past, the present and the future? Werner Lüdi (1936 – 2000)
Ki East Tokyo
Werner Lüdi / Tetsu Yamauchi / Shoji Hano
Ki West Zürich
Werner Lüdi / William Parker / Shoji Hano