A lost drone-prog-jazz classic from the 1970s Japanese underground...or is it?
Peter Marsh 2003
It sometimes seems that barely a week goes by without someone rescuing a lost classic album from obscurity; the kind of thing that sounds like it comes from another planet, is owned by virtually no-one except Julian Cope and was recorded around three decades ago in Japan or Germany.
Billed as 'a forgotten drone-prog-jazz-classic-from the 1970s Japanese Underground', Saint Agnes Fountain seems to have all the right credentials. The story goes that Masayo Asahara was completing a doctorate on American minimalist composition when she hooked up with some friends from the Osakan free jazz scene and got them to overdub their playing onto her minimalist electric organ workouts. A private pressing was made and that was that, until decades later Asahara ends up teaching electronic music in Sheffield, meets Discus boss and all round drone-prog-jazzer Martin Archer, and gets to give the album a proper release. Aaaah.
So far, so good. And it does what it says on the tin. In one sprawling hour long piece, huge, glacial blocks of organ droning are melted by the fire of free jazz horn playing, massed trombone action and the implacable motorik pulse of prime 70's Krautrock. If Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Mike Ratledge and the Art Ensemble of Chicago hooked up with Faust in 1973, we might have got something like this.
But wait...doesn't that reverb sound a bit too smooth for 1974? And where's the hiss, dropout and hum you'd expect? Your reviewer begins to feel a little suspicious. Googling 'Masayo Ashara' only results in a couple of references to the Discus website, where a couple of clicks reveal the true secret of the music's origins. Hit your browser's back button now if you don't want to know whodunnit...
Yes, it's really Mr Archer himself (working in tandem with the intriguingly named UTT/Foster and a few others) who's responsible for this juicy, psychotropic workout.I'm not sure if this is a spoiler; after all you wouldn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to work it out.I'm not sure about their motives in constructing a fictional alter ego either, but it might be a mistake to think about it too hard, particularly as the music transcends whatever origins you care to ascribe to it. After all, the fictional jam session I suggested above never really happened (if it did I bet Julian Cope's got a tape of it).
Saint Agnes Fountain combines familiar ingredients into a strange, rich stew (as Archer did with last year's exquisite English Commonflowers). It's visceral, noisy,rigorous, immersive and good clean fun. Let's hope Mr Archer and his mates meet up with Masayo again soon...