SABU TOYOZUMI PROFILED (2017): Zen and the art of freedom

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SABU TOYOZUMI PROFILED (2017): Zen and the art of freedom

Any number of guitarists would say they were inspired by Jimi Hendrix, but rather fewer drummers. Least of all a Japanese guy in a pop band with the archetypal name of the Samurais.

But drummer Yoshisaburo Toyozumi – known as Sabu and who went on to become one of the most respected free jazz drummers – has always pointed to the chance encounter of seeing Hendrix play in Sweden (in January of '68 shortly after the release of Axis: Bold As Love) as putting him on a new path.

Hendrix's free form improvisation inspired Toyozumi to look beyond psychedelic rock and into open ended improvisation, and to that end when he got back home he quit the band and hooked up with noise guitarist Masayuki (Jojo) Takanagi and his group New Directions.

Screen_Shot_2017_02_28_at_5.11.25_PMIn the late Sixties and into the Seventies inspirational free jazz, often with a black political agenda, were pouring out of the US so the Japanese players had plenty of role models, but were also on their own path.

In '71 Toyozumi became part of the groundbreaking AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) out of Chicago and was the only non-US member of that ensemble which included Lester Bowie, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton and other luminaries in free jazz.

Toyozumi is on a Braxton Creative Music Orchestra album recorded in Paris in '71 and he also recorded with Charles Mingus that same year. Unfortunately very few – indeed maybe none – of these recordings are readily available these days, other than as bootlegs.

But he has a catalogue of over a couple of dozen albums under his own name.

Born in Yokohama in '43, Toyozumi first played in a marching band at school then in the late Fifties formed his own amateur pop group. He became a professional musician at 22 and two years later joined the Samurais who toured in Europe where he had his Hendrix epiphany.

In the Seventies he lived in Paris for a year (when he played with Braxton) and travelled to Indonesia and Brazil.

cosmosBack in Japan, Toyozumi formed his own band Sabu Unit and also hooked up with activist/saxophonist Kaoru Abe (who died in '78) as the very influential Overhang Party duo.

By the early Eighties he had travelled extensively through Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia.

And then over the decades since has performed with just about every innovative and free jazz musician of note including Phil Minton, Alan Silva, John Zorn, Derek Bailey, Peter Kowald, Stomu Yamashta, Derek Bailey, Sunny Murray, Fred Frith, Evan Parker, John Russell, Peter Kowald and Barre Philips among them.

Screen_Shot_2017_02_28_at_5.24.24_PMHe has a long association with saxophonist Peter Brotzmann (pictured) whom he met in the late Eighties.

Toyozumi had always been aware of jazz even before his time in the Samurais and early on he admired drummers like Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Tony Williams and Max Roach.

But over the decades he also expanded his musical range into playing the Chinese two-stringed erhu (as heard on the double CD Kosai Yujyo (2012) recorded live at dates in Europe with various line-ups of other jazz players in everything from octet to duo settings.

sabuburotzmanToyozumi is a devotee to Watazumido, the way of the Zen master and flute player Watazumo Doso (1911– 92) whom he met in '97.

One of Doso's well known quotes was, "It's fine that you are all deep into music. But there's something deeper and if you would go deeper, if you go to the source of where the music is being made, you'll find something even more interesting. At the source, everyone's individual music is made. If you ask what the deep place is, it's your own life and it's knowing your own life, that own way that you live."

Sabu Toyozumi is touring New Zealand this month with a quartet featuring saxophonist Jeff Henderson, bassist Tom Callwood (Phoenix Foundation) and guitarist Daniel Beban (Orchestra of Spheres).


Wed 15 March – AUCKLAND - Wine Cellar

Thurs 16 March – HASTINGS – Common Room

Fri 17 March – WELLINGTON – Pyramid Club

Sat 18 March – WELLINGTON – Pyramid Club

Wed 22 March – DUNEDIN – None Gallery

Thurs 23 March – CHRISTCHURCH – Dark Room

Fri 24 March – MARAHAU – Tim’s Place

Sat 25 March – BLENHEIM – Dharma Bum’s Club

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