Improvised Music from Japan

Liner Notes of the CD Plays Standards

written by Yoshiyuki Suzuki

Since its beginning in 1990, Altered States has played free improvised music which heavily incorporates rock styles. In recent years their live performances have consisted entirely of free improvisation, with no predetermined themes or musical points of agreement on which to base their continuous playing. These performances have earned the group a following in both Japan and the West. In this album, however, they take on jazz standards.

Three of the group's members have played jazz: Yasuhiro Yoshigaki has the most jazz experience, followed by Kazuhisa Uchihashi and Mitsuru Nasuno. Occasionally Altered States even plays a jazz standard as an encore, although never in the conventional jazz style. In fact, their unique live performances of standards served as the model for this album. Their focus is not on playing jazz, but on interpreting standards.

The recording sessions for the album went very smoothly: for each tune, the band used simple scores and briefly discussed tempo, rhythm, structure, procedure, etc. Most of the performances differ greatly from the conventional jazz standard performance pattern of theme-improvised solos-theme, and four-beat rhythm. The structure and flavor vary widely from track to track. Many of the tracks are very short. Nonetheless, the melody of each standard is completely and clearly recognizable: some tracks contain only the theme section, with various musical ideas and ornaments added.

This was, in fact, the group's aim: to depart from the typical jazz performance style, with the theme-improvised solos-theme pattern and some substantial changes in mood between theme and solos. Instead, because they were interpreting standards with wonderful melodies, their goal was to revitalize the melodies and bring out their inherent charm.

On the other hand, Altered States is actually a free improvised music band; while the album shows great diversity and creative sound, they spent a very short time on its musical arrangement. Hearing their live performances, one is tempted to believe that they have predetermined themes; but in fact they consist entirely of free improvisation. On this album, the opposite situation seems to apply: each track contains a theme, some arrangement, and few or no solos, which normally would mean that there is little improvisation. Here again, though, the band outwits us. In the end, one starts to feel that what makes this album so distinctive is actually the overall improvising talent which pervades all of their performances. Improvised performances of jazz standards, requiring few or no seems that this is what Altered States has given us in this album.

Last updated: December 5, 1999