(P) 2023 NO FORMAT!
© 2023 NO FORMAT!
Composer Ryūichi SAKAMOTO
Producer Frédéric Soulard - Clément Petit
Publisher KAB AMERICA INC
Sometimes it takes death for others to appreciate an artist’s greatness, though Ryuichi Sakamoto’s genius was universally acknowledged long ago. As fans of the maestro’s work, France’s Asynchrone began to interrogate his oeuvre in 2020, with the aim of getting inside his music and taking it to unexplored new dimensions. On their debut album, Plastic Bamboo, they achieve that and more.
The timing of the release, coming after the death of Japan’s best-loved contemporary composer in March 2023, is coincidental. And while it’s sure to stand as a de facto tribute to a singularly remarkable career and man, that wasn’t the original intention. Plastic Bamboo teems with vivacity and possibility, and it’s a record that is future-facing rather than any kind of sombre eulogy. It seeks to continue the musical conversation now that the architect is no longer with us.
“I really got into Sakamoto’s music properly from working with producers and DJs because they really know his work,” says Paris-based Asynchrone co-founder Frederic Soulard, electronic musician and award-winning producer, who is also a member of French post-rock/jazz four-piece Limousine and Franco-Scottish duo Maestro. “He's been sampled a lot, especially in hip hop and electronic music. People know Sakamoto mainly for the big soundtracks, but we wanted to take a varied selection of his music in a direction where free jazz meets electronics, with this sense of liberty and freedom and just mixing it all together.”
“Our desire was above all to create a real group with material that can lend itself to jazz, improvisation and groove,” says his co-conspirator, Dijon-based Clément Petit. Petit is one of the most adaptable and innovative cellists working in France today, who has played with Romane, Ala.ni, Ben l’Oncle Soul, Blick Bassy and Lisa Papineau (to name but a few). These days, as well as playing in Asynchrone, Clément collaborates with artists such as Franco-Syrian flautist Naissam Jalal and the West-African influenced retrofuturist jazzers Space Galvachers. Having grown up in the banlieues of Paris, his classical training fused fluidly with the sounds of the streets: Afro-American and Caribbean, hip hop and electronic; all grist for the Asynchrone mill.
With this wildly eclectic approach in mind, there will be songs on Plastic Bamboo that most will be familiar with: ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ and Yellow Magic Orchestra’s ‘Behind The Mask’, in particular. And then there are the deeper cuts from Sakamoto’s solo albums from the early eighties that are less famous but that nevertheless helped to expand and augment the genre, where pop and the avant garde united with the help of a Fairlight CMI synthesiser and a brilliant mind.
“You listen to B2 Unit now and it hasn’t aged a bit,” says Fred, almost with a sense of disbelief. “The compositions are wonderful and the experimentation and discovery that he made with synths and drum machines is still very exciting.
The end of the 1970s was the beginning of purely electronic pop and we feel this freshness in the earlier albums of Sakamoto and YMO. So we wanted to present ‘Merry Christmas…’ and ‘Behind the Mask’ but also more radical pieces like ‘Differencia’ and ‘Neue Tanz.’” The latter even mashes up with an uncredited ‘Das Neue Japanische Elektronische Volkslied’ from A Thousand Knives…, demonstrating a lack of reverence and a spirit where nothing is off the table.
The title track, then, is warm and polyrhythmic, extracting the jazz element and pushing it to the fore. ‘Expecting Rivers’ from YMO is even more polyrhythmic and alacritous, imbued with the sounds of the jungle, and ‘Riot In Lagos’ demonstrates a perfect marriage of electroacoustic and synthetic practices, and is unconscionably funky to boot. The album focuses largely on that early era but not exclusively so. ‘Ubi’, from the 2017 album Async (from which the band takes its name), is a beautiful instrumental paean that deserves to be heard in its original form and in the form of Asynchrone’s breathtaking version. “When we started to explore Sakamoto's music very early on, ‘Ubi’ was a musical highlight for both of us,” remembers Clément, “and the direction we wanted to give it appeared very quickly too.”
“We chose it because it's one of his most beautiful melodies, and not one of the best known,” adds Fred. Before Asynchrone, Soulard studied sound engineering and piano at the CNSM in Paris, and career highlights so far have included playing keys with Vitalic on a world tour between 2012 and 2014, producing Jeanne Added’s Radiate which won best rock album at the Victoires de la Musique (the French BRITS) in 2017, and Piers Faccini's Shapes of The Fall, which took best jazz album at the same awards in 2022.
With their variegated backgrounds and the embrace of nu-jazz, Clément and Fred were quick to agree upon the potential of Sakamoto’s back catalogue. Furthermore, their wealth of connections made assembling Asynchrone more an enjoyable challenge than a chore. A cast of players with eclectic backgrounds were assembled to maximise the possibilities for surprise: with Delphine Joussein on flute, Hugues Mayot on saxophone, Manuel Peskine on piano and Vincent Taeger on drums, they stormed the Banlieues Bleues Jazz Festival and Jazz à la Villette in Paris in 2022 before heading for the studio.
“Hugues Mayot and Delphine Joussein both come from the free jazz world,” says Clément, “and Delphine is kind of a punk jazz player!” Her inspired squalling can be heard at the conclusion of ‘Neue Tanz’ which takes flight like some sonic astral projection. To take things that far out is a fitting tribute to a legendary musician who broke all kinds of barriers when he was alive, though when Asynchrone recorded it, they were simply having the time of their lives.