Gigs, dance, art

May 13th, 2011: Anmitsu

@musée Guimet

I know that the acoustics are sub-par, but I’m glad I didn’t let that keep me away from this gig. I’ve had mixed feelings about the recent Tsugaru Shamisen hype, mostly because I don’t like Yoshida Brothers all that much. It’s OK sound-wise, but kinda bland in my opinion. Anmitsu are the real thing and the perfect antidote to that.

They too take the Shamisen beyond hackneyed cliches, but they don’t need synths to do so. They stick to the instrument itself, and prove that it’s not that dated at all for someone who has a novel approach. And they have that in spades. So they sometimes sounded rockish enough to come close to the dreaded cross-over world-music crap, except that it involved no technological trick and as such was not a bow to current mores but more a sign of the healthy ability to absorb whatever is around while not surrendering either, a prime sign that a tradition is alive and kicking. So there was no divide there, and maybe it was related to their embracing a low-brow kind of music, no matter the century. I don’t mean to disparage anything my the term “low-brow”, just to point out that sometimes high cultural aims get in the way, and it can be liberating to yield that ground, even though there’s no yielding when in comes to the music itself. This balance is something Anmitsu masters as well or better than anyone I’ve heard.

I didn’t like the vocal style, which isn’t a surprise as my taste in terms of vocals and instruments run widely apart when it comes to Japanese music. But it wasn’t featured often, and the shamisen playing was so creative and anchored in the here and now while being true to its heritage I felt honored to have witnessed such a masterful performance. They had all that I liked about this instrument, and added many things I didn’t know I liked. They played the classics but with enough input that they felt fresh again, and their ability to breathe a second life into those classics was only second to their ability to breathe life into anything, so much so that telling those classics apart took some effort that instantly felt irrelevant.

They even had a French guy playing with them and it didn’t feel wrong at all, just musicians sharing their trade and love. That was the mind-blowing thing for me. This was billed as traditional music, but they came across as musicians just like those I’m used to seeing in the free improv or noise scenes. That may be cryptic but means something specific to me. In that specific way they reminded me of Kazue Sawai.

I bought one of their records but didn’t want it signed — I stopped doing that decades ago — but they were so good I was tempted. Come to think of it, Kazue Sawai was one of the last musicians I got to sign a record; I think Kronos were the last by a few months. I’ll remember their performance far longer, I can only hope I’ll have many other opportunities to hear them again.

June 13, 2011 - Posted by | Music | ,

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