On paper, this is quite an improbable and unexpected collaboration: an iconic and mercurial Japanese noise-guitar god teams up with a pair of serious Belgian jazz musicians. For one, Keiji Haino generally tends to work with artists that are nearly as outré as himself (My Cat is an Alien, Merzbow, Peter Brötzmann, etc.). Also, playing with an elemental force as unpredictable and unhinged as Haino seems like it would be roughly as harrowing as riding a bucking bronco for anyone new to his orbit. To their credit, however, both Verbruggen and Demoulin prove to be inspiring foils and manage to ably follow Haino's muse to whichever strange places it wanders. Needless to say, this is very much Haino's show, veering wildly between free-form chaos, roiling electronic maelstroms, feral howling, and a few passages of sublime accessibility. Given that, Miracles is a bit of an overwhelming mixed bag as a whole, but one with some genuine flashes of brilliance inside.
This endeavor originated back in 2015 when drummer Teun Verbruggen and keyboardist Jozef Demoulin (of Othin Spake and Lilly Joel, respectively) embarked upon a three-week Japanese tour together. At some of the dates, the pair were joined by "local" musicians, one of whom happened to be Haino. I am not sure if that initial meeting was recorded or found its way onto The Miracles of Only One Thing at all, but the trio found enough common ground that night to make some studio recordings together, then record a live show. Miracles is apparently a distillation of the best moments from those two events, but the line separating the live and studio work is an extremely blurry one–if anything, the opening epic "Non-Dark Destinations" sounds like an apocalyptic live performance (it is not), while the cleaner sounding "Hotel Chaika" comes from a show at SuperDeluxe in Tokyo. Though there are two other pieces on Miracles (one of which is only included on the CD version), the extended and explosive "Destinations" and "Hotel Chaika" performances are the real meat of the album. Everything else is basically intermittently interesting filler.
"Non-Dark Destinations" appropriately opens the album with a storm of cacophonous gong crashes courtesy of Haino that are soon enhanced with a healthy dose of blown-out bass frequencies and howling, gibbering electronic textures. That basically sets the tone for the rest of the piece, which progresses like a fitfully erupting volcano ably accompanied by rolling and clattering free-jazz drumming from Verbruggen. Neither Haino nor Demoulin offer anything particularly melodic for quite some time, content to instead weave a snarling maelstrom of hums, buzzes, blurts, and swooping frequencies, spewing out some wonderfully sickly sounds in the process. Unexpectedly, however, the piece coheres into a steady off-kilter groove and some floating chords around the halfway point to give way to a strangely beautiful interlude that elevates the piece into something almost transcendent (though that oasis of comparatively sanity is short-lived). Also of note: Haino picks up his guitar for rare solo at the end, unleashing an oddly timed and cleanly dissonant theme that sounds almost Jandek-ian.
Miracles' other epic salvo, "Hotel Chaika" offers no hidden melodic heart, though it does kick-off with a gloriously broken and wrong-sounding groove and some very uncomfortable pitch-swoops and sea-sick synth vibrato. If it stayed in that vein, it would be another instant classic, but Haino and I part ways a bit later in the piece when he starts cathartically stuttering and shouting, transforming "Hotel" from bizarre and drugged-sounding sci-fi jazz into something that feels like an exorcism or a bout of Tourette's syndrome. From that point on, "Hotel Chaika" feels like a deranged performance art piece punctuated by wild drum soloing and dense masses of electronic entropy. At some point, that somehow morphs into something resembling a hard rock song with overdriven bass, wild drum fills, and plenty of screaming vocals, but that too is soon derailed by a jarring explosion of electronic blurts and bloops. Overall, it seems like a disjointed show of force and an exercise in constantly wrong-footing me at every turn with abrupt shifts, which mostly leaves me cold despite some impressively wild drumming from Verbruggen.
Sadly, the other two pieces do not add much of substance to the album. The first, "Snow is Frequent, Though Light, In Winter" is 5-minute interlude of ringing cymbals and quietly simmering hisses and crackles that sounds like the prelude to a larger piece that never comes. I suppose it provides a strangely calm and effective coda to the preceding fury, but it mostly just feels like it is there to eat the remaining space on the second side of the vinyl release. The meditative CD-only "Tonight" is a bit more substantial and intriguing though, opening with a fluttering flute solo from Haino that weirdly evokes Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis before unexpectedly evolving into something resembling Tuvan throat-singing. Unfortunately, Haino cannot resist the temptation to get in a few more screams, so it has kind of a confusing and uneven tone. Alas. Still, Haino and his collaborations certainly unleash one hell of a firestorm on the first half of the album and they had no shortage of great ideas here. The catch is just that Miracles captures unbridled and unfiltered creativity in its raw form, which makes for a challenging and sometimes frustrating listening experience. To their credit, Verbruggen and Demoulin helped push Haino to some dazzling heights, but Miracles probably could have been legitimately canonical if they brought a merciless producer/editor along for the ride as well. Of course, it would not truly be a Keiji Haino album then, as erratic shifts and questionable decisions are the necessary trade-offs for his white-hot spontaneity and tirelessly bold experimentation.