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Sunday, Nov. 25, 2001

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Where the twains meet and swing


Certain musical phrases, combinations of notes, chord changes and rhythms appear consistently in the folk music of Hungary, Turkey and China.

As tribes migrated out of the Russian steppes thousands of years ago into Eastern Europe, northern China and Mongolia, they took their music with them. Ethnomusicologists have devoted decades to unearthing the remaining traces of this migration, musical clues connecting what are, on the surface, rather different cultures.

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Wataru Ohkuma of Cicala Mvta

If they listened to Cicala Mvta's new album, "Deko Boko," they might lengthen this musical trajectory by a few thousand kilometers into Japan. "Deko Boko" is a musical exploration of the point where Eastern Europe meets the Far East. Band leader Wataru Ohkuma's clarinet, at once mournful and ecstatic, is the tour guide.

Benny Goodman aside, the clarinet has rarely been a featured instrument in popular music. But in the frenzied swing of klezmer, the music of Eastern European Jews; in chindon, the street-performance music of Japan; and in Bulgarian wedding bands, known for playing wildly for days at a time, the clarinet is king.

Ohkuma is a stunningly fluent player who, besides having his own group, is also a member of folk-rock group Soul Flower Union. His clarinet is lovely on the chindon-inspired "Tokyo Jinta," which opens the album. It then cuts a path through Romanian folk music (mixed with a touch of free jazz) and covers of avant-garde jazz composer Albert Ayler (with a touch of Eastern European folk).

As if to demonstrate his skill with any type of music, Ohkuma includes cuts derived from ragtime as well as others betraying a hint of soul. Listening to Ohkuma's playful interpretations of, let's say, Nepalese folk and free jazz segueing into a melody straight from Bela Bartok, one realizes that the similarities among them are more than just chance.

Cicala Mvta plays Dec. 20 at Kichijoji Star Pine's Cafe. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets 3,300 yen in advance; 3,600 yen at the door (plus one drink). For more information, contact Star Pine's Cafe at (0422) 23-2251.

Like Cicala Mvta, Mama!Milk draws from a diverse array of influences -- from Argentine tango to the blues. But unlike "Deko Boko," which is mostly high points, all revelry and fun, "Lamb and Mutton," the Kyoto-based duo's second album, explores the opposite end of the emotional spectrum.

"Lamb and Mutton" has the melancholic timbre of Astor Piazzola and Nino Rota. Kosuke Shimizu's contrabass quivers in beautiful counterpoint to Yuko Ikoma's mournful accordion. The production, by Little Creatures drummer Tsutsumu Kurihara, is so spare that each note seems to hang in the air. It is the soundtrack to a fraught love affair, reminiscent of, say, Wong Kar-wai's Buenes Aires-based film "Happy Together" -- in which the protagonists are particularly unhappy.

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Yuko Ikoma and Kosuke Shimizu of Mama!Milk

The music's film-score quality is no accident. Mama!Milk got its start composing for performance group Kyupi Kyupi and has done music for movies and television.

Critics have attributed Mama!Milk's otherworldly ambience to its home base, and certainly there is a languor, an obscurity the group shares with other Kyoto artists such as performance art group Dumb Type and DJ Nobukazu Takemura.

However, Mama!Milk is just as much a part of the jazz-tinged acoustic music scene including Little Creatures-related bands such as Noise on Trash and Double Famous. And, unlike most of their Kyoto counterparts, they have an earthy warmth.

Mama!Milk plays with Calexico and Double Famous on Dec. 16 at Osaka Club Quattro. Doors open at 5 p.m.; show starts at 6 p.m.

Makuhari Messe will undoubtedly be full of bodies gyrating to Howie B., Aphex Twin and other stars of the dance world at the Electroglide event on Nov. 30. For those wanting a more intimate club experience, British producer and DJ Matthew Herbert will be providing an experimental groove all his own at the Liquid Room on the same night.

Electroglide, some wonderful artists aside, is mainly big names making a big bang, generally for big bucks. Matthew Herbert is entirely the opposite. The title of his latest Asian tour, "The Mechanics of Destruction," isn't a reference to the size of his subwoofers or the ferocity of his beats, but to the war in Afghanistan.

By creating dance music that is at once popular (unlike the work of other avant-gardists, you can actually dance to it) but also deeply sensitive to politics and social issues, he has re-interpreted electronic music as almost folk idiom.

It is democratic music, "handmade" from sounds culled from the cacophony of daily life. During his last Liquid Room show, he made impromptu compositions with kitchen appliances. During this one, in an effort to put his anticonsumerist politics quite literally in his art, he will manipulate rightwing newspapers and Big Macs into music.

The Mechanics of Destruction with Matthew Herbert and others: Nov. 30 at the Liquid Room, 10 p.m. Tickets 3,800 yen in advance; 4,000 yen at the door. For more information, contact the Liquid Room at (03) 3200-6831.


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