The history of entertainment sits squarely on the four shoulders of the duo. George and Ira, Laurel and Hardy, Lennon and McCartney (not to mention McCartney and Lennon): Great music, like great comedy, often benefits from dialogue.
At the 2002 Victoriaville festival, two great duos raised the bar in avant improv musical comedy, four great musicians who have done impressive work in very different styles but with the knowledge that making an audience laugh doesn't necessarily water down the performance.
When Eugene Chadbourne and René Lussier took the stage, they promptly established that they would be mining the annals of Americana (above and below the Great Lakes). With Chadbourne on banjo and Lussier, seated, stomping in rhythm while playing his acoustic guitar, the pair looked the part of an old-time duo.
The concert, and the cd (which combines that and an earlier concert by the two) opens with a brisk traditional jig, "Buckdancer's Choice," that was as refreshing in the midst of a festival of laptops and prepared instruments as it is maddeningly catchy on disc (I actually do wake up going "dee-DEET dee-DEET-DEET deet-deet-DEET" now). The concert continued in hoedown vein with a great tale of Canadian heroism (albeit written by Texan Doug Sahm), a couple of workouts from Texas Playboy Leon McAuliffe and some improvs and traditional songs, viewed of course through the twisted lens of Chad and Lussier. Chadbourne has always had a healthy dose of humor in his work (one of his early country ventures was titled LSDC&W) and Lussier sounds like he's having as much fun here as he did in Les Granules, his great duo with saxophonist Jean Derome.
For release, the set was smartly interspersed with cuts from a concert four years earlier at Instant Cháivrés Paris, which sounds to havebeen a much noisier affair. The intercutting makes for a more diverse listen, although the full Victo set would have been equally welcome.
Lussier and Chadbourne are a natural together. So are jazz pianist/composer/bandleader Satoko Fuji and punkprog drum dynamo Tatsuya Yoshida, although how anyone (themselves included) ever realized it is beyond comprehension. Along with William Parker, Fuji is on of the few who really pushed big band jazz in the '90s, and her trio with Jim Black and Mark Dresser is consistently great.
In the last few years, Fuji's work has veered away from the edge and toward the pastoral, so news from the east that she was playing in a quartet with Yoshida perplexed the western world (or a few dozen people within it) for a year before their disappointing release Vulcan. In Quebec in May, however, they met at all levels, playing compelling jazz and incorporating Yoshida's manic, rhythmic world of high-speed riffs and Magma-inspired vocals. Yoshida, surprisingly, doesn't overwhelm for the nice stuff, and when Fuji is called upon to scream nonsense syllables or play a tango while Yoshida keeps time with his jacket zipper, she's fully immersed in the task.
The set, and the resulting record, came off like a suite and carried the amazing oomph of Yoshida at his best, never quite answering the baffling question at its core ("Did someone write something this whacked, or are they really improvising that fast?"). Toh-Kichi is as good as either has done before, which is saying something.
Frank Zappa once asked if humor belongs in music. The questions is better asked, frankly, by someone who's actually funny. These two releases show that laughter doesn't preclude tapping feet and nodding heads.
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