Mark Rappaport is an all-around figure in the Japanese experimental jazz scene, writing, producing and promoting. He recently answered some questions about the new DOJO album by koto player Michiyo Yagi (Mark’s wife) and drummer Tamaya Honda.
1. How did the DOJO collabotation start?
I think I mentioned something about this in the notes to “Dōjō / Vol. 1.” I also wrote about it briefly in the English liner notes to “Dōjō / Vol. 2,” plus Yo Nakagawa touches on the subject in her Japanese liner notes.
In a nutshell: Michiyo has always been lucky with drummers, and especially lucky with Tamaya. Almost all of her co-performers on drums have been top shelf, from Paal and Hideo Yamaki to Nori Takana and Tamaya, plus she’s also played with Roger Turner, Gerry Hemingway, Joe Talia, Mani Neumeier, etc. I always liked Tamaya’s playing – I would even go so far as to say that I probably would be playing like him if I’d never given up playing the drums – so it made sense to bring him and Michiyo together (which was about ten years ago). At the time Tamaya wasn’t a very good free jazz / improv drummer, but I knew he had it in him, and encouraged him towards non-metric playing via gigs with Michiyo (which evolved into Dōjō) and Peter Brötzmann.
2. Koto & Drums is an unusual combo: were there any difficulties when they first started rehearsing? How about the recording process?
It didn’t take long for Michiyo and Tamaya to click. Tamaya’s a veteran jazz accompanist, so in spite of the koto’s quirks as a rhythmic instrument (characterized, among other things, by being slightly behind the beat due to the way it’s downstroked quite a distance away from the player’s body), he was able to lock in to her sense of time. When a guest performer is involved Tamaya tends to stick close to Michiyo’s playing, preserving the “Dōjō vibe.” Dōjō recording sessions are very loose. The duo performances tend to be worked out to various degrees. One extreme is, “Let’s do something really quiet with very few notes.” The other is, “Let’s loop a bassline and start overdubbing stuff over it.” With guests, there’s almost nothing predetermined. I do tend to sit in the studio during the takes and, if Tamaya or Michiyo look at me during the improvisation (which usually means they’re asking, “Is it about time to start slowing down?”) I’ll more often than not tell them (with my hands) to continue, or take it up a notch, or start thinking of an ending, etc.
3. What (if any) are the differences between the first and second albums?
There was no looping at all in “Vol. 1” but the first and last tracks on “Vol. 2” are based on looped basslines that Michiyo thinks up on the spot. I think there’s slightly more of a prog rock vibe in “Vol. 2.” And Michiyo’s sonic palette continues to expand.
4. Gigs and upcoming projects?
Dōjō will be sharing the bill with Mikako Mihashi’s group at Mandala 2 in Kichijoji on March 3. The major upcoming gig is the March 10 SuperDeluxe gig.
Upcoming Dōjō albums will feature Jon Irabagon (already recorded), Peter Brötzmann (already recorded), Jon Rune Strøm (already recorded), and Eivind Aarset (TBR).
Michiyo will be playing a trio gig with Akira Sakata and Takashi Sugawa on February 25 at Aketa No Mise.
We also just started recording Michiyo’s first vocal album.
You can hear DOJO with special guest Akira Sakata on OK Jazz Episode #54.