It is obvious that Michiyo Yagi is the wild card on this album. While drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and noise guru Lasse Marhaug are among the fearless innovators of the Norwegian experimental music scene and McPhee has been part of the transcontinental free jazz collaboration that started about twenty years ago, the connection with Yagi came somewhat later. Since the start of the millennium, this virtuoso koto player has gradually become widely known as a radical freethinker, equally at ease in freely improvised music as in contemporary classical and the traditional music of her home country, Japan.
The connection with Nilssen-Love started more than a decade ago. Since then, the two have regularly met, bonding with a.o
. Peter Brötzmann. By the winter of 2011, the trio of Yagi, Marhaug and Nilssen-Love had already recorded at Tokyo’s GOK Studio, but the recording of this quartet two years later, became something different again. Of course it is obvious that any record involving the rightfully legendary McPhee will have something exceptional to offer.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the recording is that it did not become a muscular free-for-all session. ‘Soul Stream’ is certainly not without its moments of broiling intensity and white hot interplay. But the overall impression is subtler, as the rage and thunder these people are capable of are replaced with a more nuanced, flowing and no less exceptional interplay. Yagi’s command of the electric 21-string koto and the 17-string bass koto meshes seamlessly with Marhaug’s knack for sound coloring and the diverse techniques of McPhee – lyrical and incisive, as usual – and Nilssen-Love, who is once again playing with his trademark abandon. At once searching, genre-bending and ritualistic, ‘Soul Stream’ entirely lives up to its title.
-- Guy Peters