Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Werewolf Guitarists

I have another guitarist to add to my Tokyo Top Five, Chris Silva. He's not Japanese, (Chinese decent, American and Australian background) but he's been gigging professionally here for years.

I met him at Cozmo's Thursday night open mic in Shibuya a couple of weeks ago. I did my usual guitar set, nothing noteworthy, but he complimented one of my tunes after I was done. He was scheduled next and plugged in his electric, a strange looking hybrid strat of a make I've never seen. It's upper horn was replaced by a rounded shoulder. He wowed us all with three original songs full of finger picking, slapping, soloing, and a little vocal melody. I was with Toshi from Sunset Drive that night, and even he was completely fixated on the talent before us that seemed to have dropped out of nowhere.

After Chris was done playing, I approached him and introduced myself, making sure to tell him that drumset is my best instrument. Our meeting was fortunate. I don't make it to Cozmo's often, and Chris said that as a general rule he doesn't like open mics. His belief is that as a professional musician, if you give away your talent for free, you're being taken advantage of. For Tokyo, I think he has a valid point. In the hegemony of the music world here, bands are at the bottom. In fact, most large clubs charge bands a fee to play. Groups can only recoup their costs if attendance is strong. I would say that Tokyo has got to be the hardest city I've ever seen to make it as a musician. Of all the talent I've been writing about, only a few characters are able to make a living from their art.

Chris and I have been in touch on and off since. Last week, he invited me to a jam session he plays at once a month in an Asagaya bar, Gamuso-Chroma. I had a hunch that he was curious to see if my claim to drums was the real deal or not. I arrived at the bar with a pair of sticks not knowing quite what to expect. It was a narrow, two story joint with a micro stage squeezed in upstairs. The place is run by gaijin but definitely seemed to be a decent Japanese hangout. Like the yuppy Roppongi clubs, the patrons at this bar were from Japan, America, and elsewhere, yet in contrast, somehow the place maintained it's authentic Tokyo vibe.

Chris was playing with another gaijin guitarist, Jeff. Each of them had a stratocaster wired though a monster floorboard of effects and synthesizers. Like Yugo, these guys knew how to make their electronics work.

At first, they did a guitar duet of ambient free jazz-rock. The structure and harmony was unplanned and the tempo was unlocked like a fence gate in the wind. Each tooled with a loop station, delay, and synthesizers that mimicked the exotic as well as practical. Every few minutes, Chris would switch on his bass synth and loop a few riffs with his quick fingers.

It would be hard for me to put Chris' style of playing to words. He is one of those musicians whose ability has long exceeded the practical applications of his instrument. For such musicians, having already mastered blues, rock, and jazz, there is nowhere to go but within, to the inner domain of unimpeded creativity.

After playing a few extended improvisations with Jeff, Chris launched into one of his own solo compositions, a piece I heard him play at Cozmo's before. The harmony for the piece was lightly reminiscent of Bon Jovi's cowboyish anthem "Dead or Alive" yet his playing was full of Leo Kotke style finger picking. And to liven things up between phrases, Chris would throw in flourishes of electro heavy metal free jazz a la Steve Vai. His melodic sense of improvisation is truly uncanny.

You can imagine how overeager I was for my turn to play. As soon as the guys on stage looked at me, I grabbed my sticks and dove behind the tiny kit, assuming ready position. We entered the same free creative domain as before, everyone listening to the mutual vibes that would direct where the music and groove would take us. We played a few numbers.

After the set, I thanked Chris for letting me play. He replied that he was impressed that I showed up out of nowhere and figured out how to mesh with their style. I hope it wasn't polite musicians' flattery because I would kill to play with him again.

And this story/sequence of nightly events was topped of with a very cool coda. While I was on kit, I noticed in the small crowd a very tall slender Japanese woman checking out our set. When we were done playing, she approached me and told me in English that she liked my style. She was fairly excited, had more than a few drinks in her, and was telling me about her own band, Qypthone. Her group had toured all over Europe, the US, Korea, and elsewhere. They also had a song on the soundtrack to the third installment of the Fast and the Furious films! I confirmed this on the web. Take a look if your interested. They have a lounge vibe like the Pizzicato 5, one of the more famous bands to come from Japan.
Listen to Girl 100. It's my favorite tune on the page.

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