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Lila Bazooka - Arashiyama

Steve Pescott, The Sound Projector


It has to be said that the bassoon was never considered a cool axe. While others acquired the very latest in exclusive hipster threads, the bassoon was last in the queue and had to make do with a baggy tank top, alongside a socks’n’sandals combo. Within left-field rocks and experimental spheres, there have only been a handful of people who have kept its flag flying over the last half-century. Henry Cow, Gryphon, Univers Zero and British avant-jazzer Mick Beck being prominent fan-club members.

Arashiyama, however, finds this rather unassuming character holding the central position within a decidedly colourful post-modern framework ably constructed by Sophie Bernado (bassoon/vocals/synthetics) and Céline Grangey (sound design/synthetics). Both being one-time students at the “National Conservatory Superior of Paris”, with the latter an advanced course graduate in professional sound techniques. Their initial inspirations, including the exciting back four of Stockhausen, Berio, Reich and Cage, would eventually share equal billing with the twosome’s more recent fascination with Japanese traditional music. A trip to Japan followed in 2019, which spawned the idea for a debut release that encompassed field recordings, vocals, bassoon and the Japanese mouth-organ a.k.a. the Sho. For the latter task, they hooked up with Ko Ishikawa, a Sho maestro of the Gagaku Ensemble, who has also rubbed shoulders with the likes of Evan Parker and Otomo Yoshihide.

A solo bassoon workout around the exercise yard begins the set, “Nouka”‘s blare at times seemingly taking on the sonorities of the baritone sax. I can easily imagine said instrument being used on vintage Motown tracks (And is that a bassoon I hear before me on Smokey’s “Tears of a Clown”?) as an able substitute for that old brass warhorse. The rest of the album’s content is neatly split into two conceptual halves, and are themed around the two’s aforementioned fact-finding mission to the east. With the title cut and “Perpetuum” Céline’s widescreen backgrounding skills come to the fore with her faux string section dramatics and beguiling atmospheric glissandos successfully coupling with Sophie’s hushed spoken word delivery. In stark contrast, there’s “Thanks to the Hill”, a fever dream made flesh where dolorous bassoon figures jostle with a dizzying electronic scree. Rated X for sure. Ko Ishikawa’s appearances on the sho are limited to the gorgeous “Kome to Me” with Sophie attaining luminescent torch singer status and the stately and sublime “I Keep Lifting my Head”; another spoken word piece where “Eden is my garden, who believes it at the end, lives it…”

With folks like Noah Howard, Jemel Moondoc and Jimmy Lyons on its roster, the Ayler imprint is one that certainly leans towards all things avant, so, misconceptions regarding Lila B. just might occur. To me, I’d say that if 4AD had a subsidiary label back in the day, that concerned itself with the ethereal / wispy / gossamer-winged side of experimentalism – then this would surely be in the first handful of releases.