This first night of the Otomo Yoshihide residency at the Café Oto was, for me, a revelatory introduction to the artist, a night of amazing music.
The evening began with a trio of Otomo Yoshihide (guitar), Mark Sanders (drums), and Guillaume Viltard (double bass). A soft spectral opening built to a tense edge of sculpted guitar feedback, Viltard’s wipes and squeaks and Sander’s tumbled percussive bricks. A brilliant storm-gathering section saw rapid bass bowing, thick scalding chords from Yoshihide, and a rolling thunder of drums; Yoshihide making snaking, quivering runs up and down the neck of the guitar; occasionally leaking single ringing notes that smeared with Viltard’s creaky harmonics, creating a spidery concoction. The three locked into a close union; occupying the same space and constructing a tangled textural mass that congealed and pooled rather than racing off in any linear direction. That mass yielded some great noise – whistling feedback tones amidst a profusion of scrapes and tussled, sharp guitar dissonance; drums that coalesced around quick bass trills and a rattling solo: Viltard’s buzz and burr a vital undercurrent. A set like the broiling underside of a clouded weather system; something spatially still but internally in constant creative and destructive turmoil.
The next set was a duo performance from Mats Gustafsson and John Butcher. Opening with shrill bird-like phonics from Butcher, Gustafsson provided a glottal counterpoint, offering smacking full-stops on Butcher’s increasingly strident runs; a bubbling sulphurous gargle. They created a real dialogue with hesitations, interruptions, confusions and a halting, teasing silence resolved in pops and a sustained fog-horn duo blast, frayed and picked apart into spiralling airborne glowing embers; a performance at once subtle and blaringly fierce. Like two friends having a heated but productive discussion.
The highlight of the evening was a full quintet performance of staggering power. Limpid pools of knife edged feedback gathered around Viltard’s menacing bass drones. A pressurised atmosphere began to hang over the venue, close and stifling. Yoshihide’s guitar was a violent and fluctuating presence, full of short stabs and screaming whispers. The band together was a thick concentration: Sanders’ clustered beats; Gustafsson’s bellowing was a crane lifting the ensemble aloft, buttressed by Viltard’s rickety scrabble. A solid chromatic blur, the set was incredible at its peaks; a coruscating noise union, never lacking individual details; a fierce but nuanced attack, a sophistication of violence. No individual player crowded out the others, no mean feat given the presence of Gustafsson’s molten roar. The total sound was never just a blare, its quieter moments revealed a fascinating group dynamic: the pointillism of Sanders and Yoshihide; the bubbling percolating froth of Butcher; Viltard’s plucking and scraping sending ripples through the sound space; Yoshihide a coiled presence, his lunge when it comes is savage, smashed strings and sudden pin-sharp, white-light bursts of killer noise. A late blast in the set inspired the others to ecstatic heights, Butcher adding a ripping high-end to an expanding all-encompassing morass of gripping, furious music.