1996 (CD)
Victor Entertainment VICP-235
  • 1
    Suite 1 - Prélude
  • 2
    Suite 1 - Allemande
  • 3
    Suite 1 - Courante
  • 4
    Suite 1 - Sarabande
  • 5
    Suite 1 - Menuet I, II
  • 6
    Suite 1 - Gigue
  • 7
    Suite 2 - Prelude
  • 8
    Suite 2 - Allemande
  • 9
    Suite 2 - Courante
  • 10
    Suite 2 - Sarabande
  • 11
    Suite 2 - Menuet I, II
  • 12
    Suite 2 - Gigue
  • 13
    Suite 3 - Prelude
  • 14
    Suite 3 - Allemande
  • 15
    Suite 3 - Courante
  • 16
    Suite 3 - Sarabande
  • 17
    Suite 3 - Boureee I, II
  • 18
    Suite 3 - Gigue

Fascinated by the triangular relationship between Bach, saxophone and space, Shimizu embarked on his explorations of the Bach Cello Suites with this album. Shimizu’s concept of using not only the saxophone, but the reverberation of the space as an instrument led him to use a huge underground quarry in Oya and the rebuilt storehouse that hosts the Consipio Studio as recording locations.

  • Why Bach?

    Why Bach? This project began not with an answer to the question but the query itself. About two years ago I suddenly became preoccupied with Bach. It was not a matter of his melodies popping into my mind—a small tear in my unconsciousness set the myriad of nuances surrounding the word “Bach” adrift on the sea of consciousness. Why was this here? … I just concentrated.

    People are said to be animals with damaged instincts. Take eating behavior: it is not the simple formula eating=life, the scheme is a complicated interrelationship of eating/illusion/life, and without care, you get fat. (Nothing against fat.) All things in the real world bear illusion, and occasionally strange, or interesting phenomena emerge. One day the interrelationship Bach/saxophone/time and distance flashed into my mind. And I wanted to give it form.

    In the words of one Japanese critic, “The common image of Bach is the great composer of sacred music that bourgeois ladies listen to.” Despite this preconception, in the context of the era in which Bach was active, his music was mundane. To me, “Bach as the great composer of sacred music” is laughably funny. There is absolutely nothing funny, however, in Bach being mundane today. At the risk of seeming importune, would not an interpretation of Bach as “the great composer of sacred music that bourgeois ladies listen to” for tenor saxophone be even more jolting? There was no parody, jest, prank, or skepticism in my approach. Conversely, I believe that tackling it with a stern and humble attitude allowed the interrelationship of Bach/saxophone/time and distance to emerge distinctly. (translated by Pamela Miki)

  • The Godless Age Bach
    J.G. Ballard’s short story “The Sound-Sweep” is based on the remarkable concept of “sound dross”—a reception hall which retains echoes of years of sundry gossip and the tinging of crystal glasses, for instance, or a Romanesque church with centuries of choir singing and the pealing of bells caked to the walls. The story’s hero, a “sound-sweep,” has the ability to pick up sounds inaudible to the average person. His work entails distinguishing the beautiful sounds from mere accumulated “static,” and to carefully “clean out” the unnecessary noise. A clear parallel can be drawn between this and Yasuaki Shimizu’s Cello Suites 1.2.3.

    Shimizu does not, however, merely “clean.” With his meticulous interpretation of composition and daring selection of recording spaces, he washes Bach free of the deposits of time and religious context, and having done away with history, ventures to interpret it anew.

    Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello are regarded as the “Old Testament’ of the cello repertoire; they are among the greatest of great music. The complete set of six suites is believed to have been composed around 1720, compiled from a number of dance pieces. The suites fell into obscurity after Bach’s death until they were “discovered” in the late 1800s by Pablo Casals. They have since been repeatedly interpreted and recorded by the entire line of major cellists, including Fournier, Starker, Tortelier, Bylsma, Maisky, Yo Yo Ma, Tsutsumi and Rostropovich. Renditions have been recorded on recorder, and on jazz guitar (Ornette Coleman and Prime Time’s Tone Dialing). Shimizu’s is the first recorded tenor saxophone interpretation.

    Shimizu chose three distinctly different spaces to record in: the lobby of a converted warehouse for Suite 1, an underground stone quarry for Suite 2, and a huge, newly constructed concert hall for Suite 3. The absence of any historical connection to music and an extraordinarily high degree of reverberation were common to all three locations. Use of such distinctive space is unique not only among recorded interpretations of Bach’s Cello Suites, but among recorded renditions of any of Bach’s works; this is an altogether exceptional event.

    Although the concepts behind Bach’s compositions defy easy categorization, the defining characteristic of the Cello Suites is what might be called “virtual” polyphonic harmony achieved with a basically monophonic instrument, the cello. To accomplish this, Bach makes use of broken chords, resulting in the audible suggestion of tones not in fact sounded. The Cello Suites offer the seemingly contradictory experience of polyphony in a single-track melody (actually monophony); the missing notes are imagined by the listener. Shimizu transforms the entire performance space into a musical instrument and enhances reality in a “chicken or egg” style; the resonating space fills the gaps in Bach’s broken chords.

    One might fear an assault of echoing dissonant sound, but Shimizu and his recording staff are exacting in their calculations. When resonance from one sound should be broken off before the next, rests are long, and when a sound is to harmonize with the next, rests are short. Historically unbound, each individual tone embodies, on one hand, impurities that must be swept out, and on the other, an alluring chaos. Shimizu has spoken of wanting to express “a Bach that is both sublime and profane.” He succeeds perhaps best in his rendition of Suite 2, recorded in the underground stone quarry.

    The quarry, some ten meters below ground, is an overwhelmingly cavernous space, reminiscent of an ancient temple. The temperatures above and below ground differed as much as twenty degrees Centigrade. In midsummer, the staff attended recordings dressed for winter. The extreme difference in temperature created condensation, and water droplets that fell incessantly from the ceiling drenched the entire floor. With a pocket body warmer tucked into his jacket, and invigorated by an occasional toke of supplementary oxygen, Shimizu seemed to be feeling fine as he whaled on his saxophone.

    If you listen carefully you can hear the sound of water gently falling and gradually become aware that the music is replete with a myriad of subtle sounds. Even Bach—whose labors also touched on both the sacred and the profane (the authorities were once summoned to the church when he escorted a woman to the organ seat)—would surely tip his hat to Shimizu’s backhanded interpretation adopting echo and environmental sound.

    When recorded outside of churches or established halls, freed from the conventions of religious and musical history, Bach takes on a rare kind of ease. Special mention should also be made of the ethereal quality of the Prelude juxtaposed with the slow Menuets, followed by the funky pace of the Gigue in Suite 1, and the extended chord in the finale of the Courante in Suite 3. Here is the omnipresent and, at the same time, contemporary Bach. Balanced in the interstice between fine art and pop art, Shimizu’s interpretation is a tribute to both.

    Bach of course not only composed for unaccompanied cello, but also wrote pieces for solo flute and violin. To ask “what if” of history may be sheer fancy, but when we look at the commonality (or disparity) in timbre between cello and saxophone, particularly tenor saxophone, it is tempting to imagine what Bach might have composed for tenor saxophone had the instrument existed in his day. This recording does just that.

    Shimizu scrutinizes the residue of history to create a Bach whom we have never known. In part, he functions as a sound sweep. His greater contribution, however, is in adding the strains of our age, giving the Cello Suites a timelessness and creating a chaotic weave of vulgarity and sanctity. A Bach for the godless age is born.
    — Tetsuya Ozaki (translated by Pamela Miki)

  • “Extraordinary recording. The most striking for Western ear is the tempo of the two menuets. We are so accustomed to the usual dancing pace, close to a military drumlike attack with Casals: “Tang- tang tang -tang tatatang!” that suddenly it sounds like something you never heard before, like a familiar scene running in slow motion. Very impressive.”

    — Chris Marker, film director

    “Shimizu takes a thoroughly modern approach to the melodic structure. He handles the formal aspects of this composition admirably, while also incorporating a dualistic approach to their interpretation. He combines the intellectual with the carnal, the subjective with the objective, the dazzling with the stimulating, the formal with the profane. There is a true measure of equilibrium in his approach, which any true interpretation of Bach requires. This is at the core of Bach’s eternal appeal.”
    — Koji Ueno, composer

    “Once you hear it, you are taken, and there is no going back.”
    — Goro Namerikawa, butoh dancer

    “The feeling is that of having one’s true nature brought up to the threshold of harmonic danger.”
    — Midori Tanaka, Tokyo FM

    “The music went straight to the core of our cells when those solemn tones rose up from the pitch-dark interior, moving out over the illuminated autumn colors of the temple precincts. The melody slowly erased all our unnecessary trappings, bringing us to a state of being at one with the wind. Wrapped into our warm clothing, we were caught body and soul by the force of the music, and drawn slowly into another realm.”
    — Rintaro, film animation director

    “Shimizu has taken a thorny path that he found for himself, and broken entirely new ground.”
    — Saburo Kitajima, enka singer

    ” His music makes the air vibrate and the heart beat differently, as if one had started breathing in time with the universe.”
    — Takeshi Shibata, director, NHK TV

    “His talent goes beyond virtuosity: his Latin-like desire and ability to embrace many different musical styles have led him today to a position beyond definition. That is what true talent is all about. In these heady times I believe he has reached a kind of satori.”
    — Haruomi Hosono, musician

    “Shimizu’s Bach is neither an onslaught on tradition nor a banal experiment. It is simply Bach in all his beauty. What is incredible about it is its outright modern quality; this sets it apart from the orthodox renditions. Shimizu’s Bach is sympathetic. Speaking in cinematic terms, I would compare it with the warmth that exudes from Jean Renoir’s humanistic vision of the world. For those who feel forsaken by modern film, contemporary culture, and music, all I can say is, listen to this.”
    — Mitsuo Yanagimachi, film director

Produced by Yasuaki Shimizu, Eiki Uchida
Composed by J.S. Bach

Yasuaki Shimizu: tenor saxophone
Suite 2 “Menuet I, II”:
Hiroshi Yokoyama, Yoshioki Shibusawa, Sayaka Nakagawa, Misa Takatori,
Natsuko Yamanaka, Tomoko Ishida, Minako Sato, Asuka Kikuchi: alto saxophone
Harue Suzuki, Yuki Shinozawa, Kae Sugimoto, Teiji Miura, Yasunori Yamamoto: tenor saxophone
Reiko Sai, Yasuo Kakinuma: baritone saxophone

Recorded/mixed by Masataka Fukuda at:
Suite 1: Consipio Studio (Tokyo)
Suite 2: Oya Stone Quarry (Utsunomiya)
Suite 3: Harmony Hall (Otawara)