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Yumi Hara — Groove Study
(Bonobo's Ark BAR010, 2023, CD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2023-09-08

Groove Study Cover art

Followers of the Canterbury scene will recognize Yumi Hara’s name from her collaborations with such artists as Hugh Hopper, Geoff Leigh, Daevid Allen, Chris Cutler, and others. Groove Study is only her second release presented solely under her own name — her first, Statement Heels, came out more than ten years ago, but slipped by without my noticing it. This time out, Hara contributes a variety of keyboard instruments (piano, clavichord, pipe organ, synthesizer, electronic organ) along with harp, violin, and percussion, as well as singing; she’s assisted by Chris Cutler (drums, percussion), Toshiaki Sudoh (bass, drums), Tim Hodgkinson (clarinet, bass clarinet), and Tatsuya Yoshida (drums). The compositions are mostly Hara’s, with a few interesting exceptions: there’s a brief arrangement of a piano piece by Arnold Schönberg with added drums, and another short piece by Lindsay Cooper. Throughout the music, there’s a very playful attitude, full of joy at letting creativity run free. Two of the remarkable features of the album are the use of pipe organ and clavichord, both of which are quite unusual and unexpected in the context of what might broadly be called avant-rock. “Orlyonok” starts off the album and includes both. This piece dates back quite a few years, having originally been conceived as a duet for organ and guitar with Steve Howe, but the logistics of the two working together never aligned, so Hara reworked it to use pipe organ and clavichord, then filled out the arrangement with piano, bass, and drums. In addition to the unique instrumentation, it’s a fascinating piece both rhythmically and harmonically. The liner notes detail the technical difficulties of recording the pipe organ at St. Laurence Church in Catford in southeast London. I can report that it sounds amazing, and it’s quite enjoyable to hear the instrument used in such a way — it’s very different from Rick Wakeman’s pipe organ recordings. It also features on the three part “Hibernal” suite, augmented by drums and bass. Sonically, the clavichord is the complete opposite of the pipe organ, having a very delicate sound (I seem to remember an old PDQ Bach joke about how a clavichord is inaudible if there’s another instrument even in the room with it). Hara uses it beautifully, taking advantage of its distinctive qualities. The Schönberg piece is also fascinating, using bass and drums to pull out the rhythmic power implied in the 1909 piano composition. Another highlight is “Groove Study Giga Mix,” which is not simply a mashup of the other pieces on the album, but a multi-piano composition dating from 2001 where Hara has overdubbed six grand pianos and had Cutler add drums. Every one of the nine tracks is wonderful, and my only complaint is that the album is so short. I could easily listen to many more tracks this good!

Filed under: New releases, 2023 releases

Related artist(s): Chris Cutler, Tim Hodgkinson, Tatsuya Yoshida, Yumi Hara

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