Photo: Bryony McIntyre

Sanjah: Kan Mikami, Masayoshi Urabe & Toshiaki Ishizuka

Sanjah is a HEAVY Japanese super group, featuring the sundown delta blues of Kan Mikami, Toshi Ishizuka’s heavy, time folding drumming and Masayoshi Urabe on sax, harmonica and chains (oh yeah, there’s chains).  Their sound is a kind of distilled and clipped emotional intent: a sparse, roiling energy pulling three ways to the same effect.

Brought together for the first time as a trio for PSF Records' 25th anniversary blow out last year, Sanjah finds all 3 conspirators at the height of their powers.  The recording released shortly after that live set collects a short set of improvisations that seem so natural, so intended and restrained, the fact that they are improvised doesn't even really register; they might as well be carved in rock. Mikami’s vocals are tenebrous and graphic; hushed and plaintive in places, nailed to the ceiling in others.  Urabe’s harmonica playing is just heartbreakingly beautiful, his high lonesome sax a lambent solar flare just over the horizon. Where other drummers might settle for underpinning and support, Ishizuka seethes with intent, every composed touch, each slow burning rumble or sudden burst into martial rhythm, adds to the atmosphere of brooding knowledge.  There’s so much restraint and space it’s crushing. Each song feels like a shot in the dark, a story of deeply felt lives in rebellion or turmoil; listening to them I think as much of the great poets Kenneth Patchen or Malcolm Lowry as anything else. Like Patchen, Mikami’s vocals can feel like a rapier-sharp satirizing of the debasing and inhuman inanities of modern life; in Lowry the group share the ability to turn out short, mellifluous cryptograms of emotional despair.

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    • CC BY-NC-ND 4.0