I confess to being in a state of ceaseless awe when it comes to Tokyo guitarist, Ueno Takashi.
I have had the pleasure to know Ueno now for well over 10 years. In that time he has remained a source of constant curiosity and surprise. Just when I think I have the man pegged, he throws out some unexpected musical gesture that completely catches me off guard. Whether it be his work with Saya in Tenniscoats, or his almost endless stream of solo releases, many of which exist in very short run editions, his music typifies a tireless desire to explore.
Recently Ueno’s curve ball has been his project Off Strings with Vice Japan, where he talks to leading Japanese guitarists. It’s an incredible series of interviews, which I heartily recommend checking out. The results have been quite extraordinary and his session with Haino Keiji a personal favourite of mine. Yet another pleasant surprise from this maestro.
Over the course of his previous solo recordings for Room40, Ueno has tested very reductive compositional approaches. Each of the records has created a precise and unique approaches to guitar. Sui-Gin, his first solo for us, almost 10 years old, remains one of Room40’s most individual sounding recordings. It’s a collection of alien tones, uneasy yet beautiful. To this day I still can’t quite imagine how he drew so much harmonic richness from such a limited palette; one instrument and one pedal.
Smoke Under The Water, a title I can only assume maintains at least a little humour about it, is easily the most beautiful record Ueno has made in recent years. Here, the lushness of his playing meets head on this is minimalist compositional heart. This record bares a close attention to detail. That is not to say it is fussed over or seeking some kind of state of perfection. On the contrary this is a record about performance, about taking a beautiful compositional idea and seeking to document it with the life and breath that is so critical to solo instrumental works.
I implore you to listen to one of Japan’s true master’s of his craft.