Throw out everything you think you know about ambient jazz fusion; there's a new sheriff in town.
Folks, we're about to introduce you to a new guitar hero. He goes by the name of Yoshitake Expe, or just Expe. Among the Japanese cognoscenti, Expe is known mostly for his phalanx of 70 different hand-built effects pedals, allowing him to make just about any sound he wants to make at any time, centering on a particular effect called "space guitar." Expe, originally from Osaka, is just kind of one of those musicians' musicians you hear about – maybe kind of like a younger Japanese version of Adrian Belew, except without the singing and lyric-writing part. He headed up the influential band Nutron, he plays with Eye from the Boredoms a lot, he DJs, he does side guitar gigs, he's just kind of all over the place. But his most personal music these days comes under his own name, in a tight collaboration with Brazilian drummer Marcos Suzano.
There are just five listed tracks here, ranging in length from 10 to almost 21 minutes. But there's something here for everyone: largely jazz, some rock, some Third Wave classical, and a lot that straddles the line of whatever kind of music "ambient music" is supposed to be. But Expe is much more than just some Windham Hill superstar, pushing boredom and herbal tea as a way of life; Emeralda is edgy, restless, and relentlessly experimental in both tone and structure. Opening track "Episode" encapsulates this in a manner that is perfect for our purposes. It starts out kind of floaty and stays that way for the first seven minutes, with layers of pastoral Metheny-esque acoustic guitar arpeggios, gentle jazz drumming, and whooshing nature sounds. Electric piano and synthesizer come together, interact, disappear; there's a Steve Reich thing happening, almost, except maybe a bit more pastoral than that. Then, at the 7:30 mark, the entire work shifts. Synth lines become more direct, providing us with a way through the soundscape. Suzano's pandeiro work becomes more prominent, giving everything some soul, and some samba. As tension continues to build, so does the intricacy of Expe's guitar layers, and the beauty of all the interactions. This is musical tightrope walking at a very high level.
Then we go straight into "Formura," and we're suddenly on a whole new track. Tricky percussive guitar work, straightforward drums (Kiyofumi Sadanaga from the jazzrock side and Suzano from the Brazilian side), funky bass synths – it's very adorable. But Expe knows that adorable is overrated, so at the five-minute mark we're suddenly in a full-on math-rock post-disco jam, with high-hat cymbals and an ecstatic vibe. These long jams evolve in different ways. "Holizana" is heavy on countrified heavy guitar strums before turning into a sudamericano percussion-heavy jam. "Caleide" is psychedelic, yearning, and cool. It is also the only track with any vocals on it, although Jarvis Earnshaw's layers of wordless keening are not entirely successful. On "Goya," we're in full prog mode, with some of Expe's most expressive guitar playing. The full repertoire is dragged out here – jazz-rock riffs, metallic improvisations, ambient scrapes that echo away into the ether, before the entire piece goes gentle into that good night.