Narita Munehiro & Uchihashi Kazuhisa
This entry I’ll focus on two of the guitar greats from Japan’s underground, whose styles are nearly diametrically opposed. Both have a long history within their respective scenes, and have contributed to some utterly fantastic releases.
First up is Narita Munehiro, who will be known to most readers from the legendary High Rise. With bassist and vocalist Nanjo Asahito and several drummers over the group’s lifetime, Narita was part of one of the world’s greatest power trios (I use the past tense because High Rise seems to have run its course, with Nanjo having more or less disappeared, at least as of this writing). The first High Rise album, and several others, remain out of print but if you haven’t heard the group, just buy whatever you can find and you’ll be happy.
Narita’s other work remains far less known, but includes Kyoaku no Intention (with drummer Shoji Hano, who also played with High Rise at one point) and a handful of solo releases: the first, released by PSF in 2005, included duos with Ueno Takashi (of Aihiyo and Maher Shalal Hash Baz). The second was released late last year from the always-terrific Archive Recordings, entitled ether: solo electric guitar works. As advertised, the CD contains two lengthy solo guitar excursions. They’ll surprise both those who expect High Rise-style blasts as well as those expecting experimental dronescapes, by including all of the above and many things in between. The playing can be stark and at times the free-flowing sound may be off-putting, but the sheer weight of the proceedings will force you to lie down and take it.
On the flip side of guitar heroics we find the avant-garde style of Uchihashi Kazuhisa, whose electronically-enhanced playing over the past 15+ years has included collaborations with everyone: Audio Sports, Nobukazu Takemura, Charles Hayward, Haco, Hideaki Sasaki, Otomo Yoshihide, John Zorn, Tatsuya Yoshida, Hans Reichel, Fred Frith…and that’s just a start. He’s also been a member of Yoshihide’s sublime Ground Zero on several albums.
Uchihashi’s playing veers from electronically-treated sonic wizardry to plain old jaw-dropping technical feats of fancy, but for me it’s the rock-meets-jazz-meets-experimental range displayed with his group Altered States that really gets to me. I have a particular soft spot for the album 4, recorded live in 1995 at (of all places) the Knitting Factory, so I’ll include an excerpt from that one here. Ranging from quietly twisty to out-there riffing, the trio leave no stone unturned (Altered States is Uchihashi with bassist Nasuno Mitsuru and drummer Yoshigaki Yasuhiro, who are of course no slouches themselves). Altered States released Bluffs II last year, which I have alas not yet obtained, but when I do I’ll be sure to share the news.