Thanks to a discrepancy between the listing in my own Boston Globe piece (correct) a couple of weeks ago and the listing at the Lily Pad Web site (incorrect), I arrived late for the set by the Japanese-French quartet Kaze. Too bad for me, but there’s something to be said for arriving to a performance in media res. In this case, in front of a crowd of 25 or so (the Lily Pad doesn’t hold much more than that), the band was creating near-silence. Trumpeters Natsuki Tamura and Christian Pruvost stood with their instruments at their lips, yet nothing could be heard but the quiet swoosh of blown air. Pianist Satoko Fujii was standing at the keyboard, bent over, her arms extended into the instrument’s strings. One began to hear a soft rubbing sound, then the scrape of drummer Peter Orins’s stick against cymbals. “Wooosh!” went that eerie, airy sound, louder and then quieter as Pruvost,lips pressed to mouthpiece, pivoted his horn from side to side. Fujii plucked some spare harp notes on her strings, and after five minutes or so the trumpeters began to blow fully sounded notes. Then Taumra and Pruvost fell into a sweet, mysterious unison melody of long tones, Fujii accompanying them with spare chords. The flow of the trumpet line slowly fractured, the rhythmic rattles on the drums increased, and we moved out of the quiet world of Morton Feldman minimalism and into a full candence and a stop. Pruvost broke for an a cappella solo — a short, repeated arpeggiated phrase, accelerating and declerrating, ending with a long held tone and a wide, soft vibrato. He played a bluesy phrase before Tamura joined him with soft flutters and Pruvost answered with some hard riffs. There was a break for a drum solo, Orins now leaving his rattles and scrapes behind for additive phrases with snare, sticks on rims, and resonant tom-tom, playing a kind of call-and-response with his bass drum — 1,2! 1,2,3! 1,2,3,4! 1,2,3,4,5! Fujii came in with some sweeping chromatic phrases and then the band found a kind of unison theme and hard 4/4, but not swinging. The long unison trumpet line came back, and the band stopped cold. It had been about 25 minutes since I’d entered the club.
Kaze (pronounced Kah-ZEH, meaning “wind”) takes jazz abstraction to a sublime limit. And it does sound like the process of abstract painting — everything is about balance, the relationship of mark to ground, the shape of lines, with vague reference to a tonal center of fixed time-keeping. The band favors what the Art Ensemble of Chicago used to call “little instruments” — bird calls and rattles, toy noisemakers, temple bells and zen bowls. At one point, Pruvost created a squealing effect by blowing through a black rubber balloon into his mouthpiece, the distended bladder suggesting that he might be about to create a balloon animal. But from this beautifully calibrated randomness will emerge one of those austere unison trumpet lines or a grand, pummeling piano rhapsody. There is suspense, virtuosity, mystery, calm. When Fujii introduced what she said would be the last tune, some in the audience responded with a disappointed sigh. “Don’t worry,” said Fujii, “it’s long!” In fact, only about 10 minutes or so. But longer would have been fine.
All the pieces played at the show are on the band’s new CD, Tornado, on Circum-Libra Records.