This is a very successful duo improvisation record – lively communication between the musicians, but enough distance between their approaches to generate healthy tension, so that they achieve unanimity it's worth a lot. Norwegian guitarist Ivar Grydeland wields a steel-strung acoustic with a strong ring to it; Japanese Yumiko Tanaka plays her Gidayu shamisen, the ‘fat-neck' lute traditionally accompanying narrators in the puppet theatre. They recorded last year in Osaka , alongside the slot machines and rollercoaster of the Festival Gate amusement park.
Tanaka is very good at patient exploration of a small musical area. She works hard at one idea, refusing to rush off in search of another one, slowly kindling excitement. Often she seems to challenge Grydeland to play less. Grydeland, a fairly busy player, in fact leaves plenty of space and deals out clear musical statements. Both players occasionally prepare their instruments with sticks, bows, etc, and Grydeland introduces basic electronics, maybe and E-bow, into the picture. By “Young Oceanic Crust”, they are both trading bitter-sweet, almost Baroque tones, and when the energy overflows it sounds like a bull in a Chinese music-box shop. Then they settle in to several minutes of bottlenecked rhythm. When it stops, we hear the amusement park in the distance. Several times the rollercoaster adds its menacing rumble to the mix. The last piece starts with a scrabbling of sweeps and harsh scrapes, and suddenly Tanaka's voice launches into a full-blooded Gidayu narration. Whether Grydeland has seen the puppet theatre or not, he reacts well to the passion and drama in Tanaka's delivery.
So, a fresh and intelligent album, and encouraging to anyone who suspects improvisation might be languishing in a rut. These musicians were even enjoying themselves so much in the soundcheck, they tacked it on as a secret track.