Having previously witnessed a Ryuichi Sakamoto performance with Taylor Deupree, in a dim and tiny space of The Stone in April of 2012, I was excited to relive the experience again, this time in a proper auditorium, with stage and theater seats. Prior to the show, I was lucky to accidentally run into Sakamoto-san, and having honored him with an appropriate bow, I couldn’t help but notice what a distinguished gentleman he has become over the years. Sakamoto has aged beautifully, acquiring a stern and seasoned look, with gray-peppered hair and moderate grace. Over the course of his intensely abstract and improvised performance with John Zorn I often wondered, if perhaps there was a new fan in the audience, unfamiliar with his past critically acclaimed work, and what they thought of all the sparse and abstruse keys, and what they heard in the complex exchange between the two musicians’ souls.
John Zorn is an American experimental saxophonist, with an extensive biography that could be only topped by his releases that span over 400 appearances, which culminated from his involvement in the New York music scene since the 1970s. Zorn’s command of the genres, ranging from jazz to classical to punk and klezmer is simply mind-boggling and defies all categorization. As a founder of the influential Tzadik label, Zorn has introduced the world to a series of contemporary musicians who found it difficult to express themselves through any conventional means. In the early 90s, Zorn maintained an apartment in Tokyo, and spent nearly a decade engaged in the Japanese culture. Tzadik subsequently became an outlet for many Japanese avant-garde composers. In 2005, Zorn founded The Stone, a performance space in NYC, where I first witnessed that very same Ryuichi Sakamoto performance with Taylor Deupree.
Ryuichi Sakamoto is a Japanese composer living in NYC, with a similarly vast musical history dating back to the 1970s, As a keyboardist for Yellow Magic Orchestra, Sakamoto was one of the early pioneers in electronic music. Besides a considerable solo career, Sakamoto scored many films, most notably The Last Emperor (1987) and is a recipient of an Academy Award, two Golden Globes and a Grammy among the other honors. In recent years, Sakamoto turned to collaborating with leading electronic producers such as Carsten Nicolai (aka Alva Noto), Christian Fennesz, Christopher Willits, and the previously mentioned Taylor Deupree, which, once again, put him on the map of ambient, experimental and instrumental music. For this unique (and immediately sold out) performance, Ryuichi Sakamoto joins John Zorn on the stage at the Japan Society, for the final installment in the multi-show Zorn@60 celebration, commemorating Zorn’s 60th birthday.
As soon as the welcome applause died down, Sakamoto began to play. Crouched over the prepared grand piano, Sakamoto rummaged in the upper register of the instrument, scraping the strings with various implements, plucking the hammers and brushing the keys. Something bounced on the wood and the metal, creating percussive sounds which were previously mum. Sakamoto barely sat behind the keyboard. Like a surgeon, fascinated with the mysterious insides of an alien life, he probed through the limits of sound the piano can make. Zorn echoed eccentric abstraction. The sax sighed with whispers and moans. Something thumped through the valves, rasping its way down its body without air. The howling was frequently muffled, as Zorn pressed the instrument’s bell at his thigh. The two danced with a mystical language, often teasing the audience with music without resolve. The sound agitated the atmosphere with flustered trills and flickering keys. And after a chord pounding encore the audience clapped long after the stars left the stage.