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Tetuzi Akiyama, "Striking Another Match"

An unhealthy infatuation with American music might earn someone a reputation for tunnel vision, especially with all the different kinds of music in the world. The blues and jazz (perhaps two of America's greatest treasures) have escaped to other shores, though, and there it sounds as foreign as anything an oud or a gamelan could produce.



In fact, plenty of American music has always been popular overseas. Many of the greatest jazz musicians in history enjoyed more success in Europe or Japan than they ever did in America during their lifetime. Swing music was powerful enough to be outlawed in some countries and the blues came back to this country after the British got ahold of it and put some fuzz in its bones. American music is, regardless of popular and rebellious opinion, is rich with history, power, and influence. It's no wonder, then, that Tetuzi Akiyama's focus on this release from Utech sounds more American than Japanese, despite the "improvised music from Japan" sign hanging from Akiyama's website.

The music itself isn't quite up to par with its influences, the work of several classically minded guitarists putting their fingers and sweat to the fret-board of the blues and traditional folk songs. Names I never thought I'd see in popular culture of any kind are suddenly popping up all over the place: John Fahey might be more referenced on indie websites than Yo La Tengo these days. Yet, many of those references fall flat. In some way or another, the link between Fahey and the 21st century has a missing link. This isn't true in Akiyama's music. Akiyama's music is entirely instrumental, much like most of Fahey's work, and it relies on space as much as it does harmony and melody. The recording on this disc is absolutely terrible, filled with crackle and hiss. But behind it all is the very professional, very trained work of Akiyama's fingers. They expertly dive up and down the guitar, exclaiming bouts of dissonance and beauty in short phrases and circular wanderings. The only problem is that Akiyama isn't the writer or, apparently, the historian that his influences were. The result is that this solo guitar performance falls a bit flat. Half way through the disc a creeping feeling comes over me, suggesting that Akiyama's already played this part somewhere in the last 20 minutes.

It is interesting, though, that Akiyama has chosen to play a distinctly American brand of solo guitar. The rest of the world is filled with musicians, experimental and otherwise, that take their influences from obscure names of all parts of the world. This may be the first time I've heard a musician with a background like Akiyama's that expresses vividly an interest in American history, in the decided twang and warble of this country's guitar, its most favorite instrument. Akiyama's techniques are as varied as four or five different guitarists from the past, using non-rhythm and non-melody to counter the rolling beauty and perfect unity of rhythm and melody that pop up on the first half of this disc. In any case, this is very true to a lot of blues guitar and jazz performance I've heard and I'm happy to hear it. The history of blues, folk, and jazz is a weird one, a little mystery that most citizens aren't even conscious of. It's as interesting as any mystery I've ever heard of and its sounds are so exclamatory that one can't help but breathe in the dust of age when listening to it even now.

So while I understand all the awe that comes with discovering new music from new places (I love the sound of the oud and the way northeast African and Middle Eastern musicians play it), perhaps everyone that thinks they love music should take time to discover this stuff in the same way the rest of the world did almost 100 years ago, now. Try listening to the blues with AC/DC in the way, try getting through to folk music minus this new weird stuff that seems so popular. Akiyama has revived its spirit, complete with crackling 78 quality. It's a haunting effect in some ways, to hear the guitar through this kind of noise. It brings to mind old techniques and communal communication of a sort I'm not sure any of us are familiar with. Like I said, this music might be the greatest treasure America has ever had and right now, this country could use a few treasures that aren't the legacy of some violent act or the inheritance of stolen property.