Graded on a Curve: Richard Pinhas, Tatsuya Yoshida, Masami Akita, Process and Reality

The strikingly durable guitarist Richard Pinhas has exhibited unusual clarity of vision in the merging of progressive rock ideals and robust experimentation; displaying cohesive personality across an abundant discography, he’s never gotten stuck in a rut, in large part due to a penchant for creative partnerships. Process and Reality finds Pinhas teaming with powerhouse drummer Tatsuya Yoshida and the prolific noise maestro Masami Akita aka Merzbow; the heavier of two new collaborations, this Franco-Japanese effort should please folks into high energy free jazz and Krautrock’s expansive side. It’s out now on CD and digital through Cuneiform Records.

Mu is the other half of Richard Pinhas’ recent spike in productivity, teaming him with fellow guitarist Barry Cleveland, bassist Michael Manring, and drummer Celso Alberti. The differences in the recordings are considerable but not jarring; Mu is certainly the gentler of the two, offering an art-prog-world-fusion blend without succumbing to insubstantiality.

Providing illuminating contrast with Mu’s connection to Zen Buddhism, Process and Reality takes inspiration and its name from a 1929 book by English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead; a major proponent of process philosophy, he approached reality not as an unchanging “timeless” permanence but rather a constant process of becoming.

The record Pinhas has made with Yoshida and Akita, their first as a trio (however, the three have toured together, and examples of the guitarist’s prior studio encounters with both men separately are extant), holds four tracks totaling just a little over an hour; while no dabbler in intellectual matters, Pinhas having received a PhD in philosophy from the Sorbonne, Process and Reality’s non-vocal nature helps free it from the clutches of ponderousness in relating to philosophical matters.

Not that intelligent discourse is a negative attribute to possess. As detailed in the promo notes, the album also takes an openly pessimistic worldview; for anyone paying attention to the events and trends shaping 2016, the gloominess shouldn’t be a surprise. Process and Reality’s accompanying text further mentions Pinhas’ vision of an “Industrial Age Final Times,” and with this association the disc would seem a be a fitting conclusion to the guitarist’s Devolution Trilogy as set in motion by 2014’s Desolation Row and continued the same year with Welcome… In the Void, which happens to be a duo with Yoshida.

But it’s not; instead, the CD is a showcase for the intensity of this collective as well as the individuality of the contributors. Of the three, Akita holds the highest profile in large part due to his sheer prolificacy, with his discography numbering deep into the hundreds as his Merzbow moniker has situated him as a core figure in modern noise.

Far from the stereotype of undisciplined provocation that still occasionally maligns noise musicians, Akita’s work is a consistently challenging proposition, and therefore also a rewarding one; additionally, he’s proven versatile enough to collaborate with amongst others Jim O’Rourke, Sonic Youth, John Zorn, Boris, Mike Patton, Melt-Banana, Sunn O))), and Otomo Yoshihide.

Although he has an ample solo discography and was the drummer in YBO² alongside heavyweight guitarist KK Null (they currently play together in the long-running Zeni Geva), Yoshida is most recognized as the constant half of heavily angular art-prog-noise-rock outfit Ruins, a duo finding u-ground prominence in the USA during the same period as Boredoms; they in fact both released albums on the Shimmy Disc label.

Pinhas is the veteran in this scenario, though there are no signs of hierarchy. Differences in approach are immediately evident as Process and Reality’s shortest entry “TVJ 00 (Intro)” rises up in medias res, its three principals already going full-tilt, Yoshida bringing free-jazz/ power trio rock-like momentum to his counterparts more textural explorations.

Pinhas and Akita are no less potent in their synth-prog-noise spillage, but as Yoshida relents the opener follows suit and just as quickly fades out; at just a bit over three minutes it ultimately serves to acclimate the ear for the 36:31 of “TVJ 33 (Core track).” Interestingly, the title’s letter/ number combos and descriptive parentheticals do nothing to deepen the music’s relationship to Whitehead or to our troubled global present.

This disinclination to hammer points home is appreciated, leaving the music as the focus of consideration; for roughly 20 minutes “TVJ 33” delivers a maelstrom, but the environment is also fairly accessible given the noise rep of the participants, particularly Akita. If Yoshida’s wild union of Rashied Ali and Ginger Baker makes him the “star” of the first portion, Akita and Pinhas are the Fripp & Eno-ish center of the latter, though the energy level doth rise again en route to the close.

Frankly, this core track could’ve easily served as an album by itself, but Process and Reality does a more than adequate job in sidestepping a recurring characteristic in experimental music, one especially prevalent since the advent of the CD, namely the need to fill up all the available space on a disc. Or put more succinctly, they just avoid overkill.

The 62 minutes here are engaging rather than exhausting, and the 12 that make up “TVJ 66 (Non-Sens)” work toward the set’s most powerful plateau before culminating in a tech swirl redolent of Fripp. The ten minute closer “TVJ 77 (Quiet Final)” dips deepest in Krautrock waters, with the electronics and guitar building up a fine tension but with enough weightiness and motion amid the space rock vibes to potentially satisfy fans of Hawkwind.

Like Mu, the high quality found throughout Process and Reality bodes well for continued collaboration; bringing in guitarist Keiji Haino, who has played with the trio in a live setting, would be very welcome.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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