One-off meetings between luminaries of the experimental music scene are hit-and-miss affairs. Each player brings a strong musical personality and idiosyncratic attitude toward performance making it impossible to predict the quality of a given grouping. Tima Formosa is a live document of three experimental heavyweights coming together for the first time.
Keiji Haino is a legend of underground Japanese rock, a prolific solo performer and the founder and leader of Fushitsusha, whose all-black album art aesthetic and heavy psychedelic excursions define the Japanese cult underground. Oren Ambarachi is an Australian-born experimental musician who has collaborated with a diversity of players and is currently best known for his work with Sunn 0))). Jim O’Rourke has distinguished himself through virtuosic solo records, as a one-time member of Sonic Youth, and producer for Wilco among countless other endeavors.
Improvisational groupings of artists with such stature usually result in the players being too hesitant to step on each others toes, or trying to outdo each other, resulting in an unsatisfying and directionless cacophony. Tima Formosa finds a happy medium between these two extremes.
The first of two lengthy pieces that the core of Timo Formosa is disarmingly quiet. You can hear each player finding their place in the line up and working to avoid overplaying. Ambarchi limits himself to guitar and O’Rourke makes the piano his weapon of choice. Neither is played in a conventional manner. O’Rourke’s textured spurts of feedback-heavy piano square off against Ambarchi’s tonally minded guitar work. There are no riffs or solos, just an entrancing blanket of sound. Haino limits himself to wordless vocalizations, conjuring up an otherworldly atmosphere. The piece barely registers at times during its 25 minute duration, a haunting dispatch from a parallel dimension.
The 30-minute “Tima Formosa 3” concludes the album and is the payoff to the beautiful but intermittently formless ambiance of the first piece. Here Haino deploys flute and drum machine to startling effect. O’Rourke’s piano parts are more straightforward and rewarding, particularly when his delicate tinkling is squared off against Haino’s flute. Ambarchi’s contributions are subtler but just as essential, his guitar tone forming the sonic backbone of the piece. “Timo Formosa 3” is as good a track as could be hoped for given the pedigree of the players. This is deep listening: Turn off the lights, turn up the bass, and settle in for a rewarding journey.