The heavyweight trio of Keiji Haino, Jim O’Rourke and Oren Ambarchi return with their 12th and most epic release to date, the triple LP With pats on the head, just one too few is evil one too many is good that's all it is. Documenting the entirety of their final performance at the dearly departed Roppongi home of Tokyo underground institution SuperDeluxe in November 2018, the music spread across these six sides splits the difference between the guitar-bass-drums power trio moves and experiments with novel instrumentation that have defined the trio’s decade of working together. Containing some of the most delicate music the three have committed to wax since the gorgeous 12-string acoustic guitar and dulcimer tones of Only wanting to melt beautifully away is it a lack of contentment that stirs affection for those things said to be as of yet unseen (BT011), this wide-ranging release also offers up some of their most blistering free rock performances yet.
The side-long opening piece finds Haino on a single snare drum in duet with O’Rourke on unamplified electric guitar, playing in the lovely post-Bailey vein heard on his classic 90s recordings with Henry Kaiser and Mats Gustafsson. Spiky dissonance and ringing harmonics interweave with flowing melodic fragments as Haino single-mindedly explores the resonance of the snare like an untutored Han Bennink. On ‘Right brain, left brain; right, left; right wing, left wing. Just how many combinations can be made from these?’, O’Rourke moves to synth and electronics, joined by Ambarchi on drums, who at first focuses on sizzle cymbals before hypnotic cycles of gentle tom rhythms combine with electronic burbles and flutters to suggest a dream collaboration between Masahiko Togashi and Jean Schwarz. Ambarchi’s percussion is then joined by Haino on wandering, overblown flute, before the man in black switches back to the snare for a bizarre, stuttering drum duet.
For the first trio performance, Haino makes another new addition to his seemingly infinite catalogue of instruments, this time a homemade contraption he refers to as ‘Strings of Dubious Reputation’. Joined by O’Rourke on increasingly spaced-out electric guitar and Ambarchi on skittering percussion, Haino’s wonky, slack strings adds a definite ‘musique brut’ edge to this side-long performance, certainly one of the most enchantingly odd in the trio’s discography. When the group reconvene for the second set, spread out across the final three sides, they seem ready to breathe fire from the first instant. O’Rourke slashes distorted chords on the six-string bass, Ambarchi breaks into his signature irregular caveman thump, and Haino squeals and squawks on heavily delayed oboe before unleashing an overpowering electrical storm when he first picks up the guitar. For over half an hour, the trio pound out one of their most relentless performances, a constantly rearranging kaleidoscope of tortured fuzz guitar, insanely busy bass riffing and propulsive, tumbling drums. A hushed atmosphere initially reigns on the final long piece, given the mournful title ‘There are always things I wish to say but I can only convey them in this language August 6 August 9’. Haino’s clean guitar strumming calls up the shimmering tones of his PSF classic Affection, gradually building to a surging wall of sound, bass and drums lumbering through a roar of jet-engine guitar. Arriving in a deluxe trifold package with photos by Lasse Marhaug alongside inner sleeves with extensive live images, this epic release is perhaps the most remarkable document yet of this unique trio’s stamina and continuing inventiveness.