Kazuhisa Uchihashi

While the stereotypical Japanese avant-garde guitarist is some kind of Buddha of noise, creating the loudest din imaginable without a single reference to any known guitar chord, this gentle and accomplished player is able to reel out riffs in a variety of rock and country styles, as well as play excellent versions of mainstream jazz standards. This does not mean Kazuhisa Uchihashi is not part of the noisy modern Japanese music scene. On the contrary, he has played a big role in its development and is a former member of the important Ground Zero group. He has also, like many of his peers, become involved in collaborations outside Japan, including an especially fruitful relationship with the German avant-garde guitarist and instrument builder Hans Reichel. The latter artist created one of his strange little instruments called a daxophone for the Japanese musician, who has become second only to Reichel in his use of this device. The daxophone basically consists of bowed bits of wood in various shapes which create an amazing range of sounds, including the cry of a wounded elephant and the final gurgles of a opera contralto as she is swallowed by a loon with digestive disorders. How Uchihashi got to such strange noises from a childhood background playing folk and folk-rock is perhaps a familiar story. Records of jazz and rock improvisation were the corrupting influence as in so many cases, and by the late '80s, he was a member of Yoshigaki Yasuhiro's rip-roaring First Edition band, responsible for sending many a drunken Japanese businessman staggering into the streets with his hands over his ears.

In 1990, Uchihashi created the band Altered States with Yasuhiro, a group that has continued for more than a decade with an accompanying onslaught of compact-disc and video-tape releases. The guitarist was also a member of Ground Zero from 1994 through 1997, leaving the band after a feud with turntable player and guitarist Otomo Yoshihide which remains on the biggest grudge matches in this country's music scene. Most of Uchihashi's activities in Japan have been centered around the Kansai area of Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto, and he also has been a member of both EQ, an improvisation trio, and Triopunk, a jazz threesome. By the mid-'90s, his activities left the impression of a man living in the rafters of a recording studio, constantly plugged in and ready to play; he is literally a guest on dozens of records in both 1995 and 1996. In the latter year, he began a group called Kam-Pas-Nel-La with vocalist Haco, expatriate American drummer Samm Bennett, and harpist and composer Zeena Parkins. He has created his own label, Zenbei, and manages his own festivals, including the popular and beautifully organized Beyond Innocence events in his hometown of Kobe. Two other ensembles he formed in the late '90s are Phantasmagoria and Feel Jazz, and he continues to release a series of highly praised solo-guitar recordings. ~ Eugene Chadbourne

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