I don’t know if a four-year college education is required to understand jazz, but it sure seems like it does. Just by tangential study, I could probably tell you what jazz was. But I was reared on pop, and despite a college education in classical music, I couldn’t begin to tell you what jazz is.
All that disclaimer to say, Ore wa Konna Mon Ja Nai (owkmjn, for short) feels like jazz to me.
But it’s not swing, it’s not be-bop, it’s not even Lower East Side Manhattan noise. If anything, the music of owkmjn is more closely rooted to indie rock than jazz. It’s the same kind of confounding improvisational style trafficked by LOSALIOS, just far more rhythmic and significantly more unhinged.
The band’s second album, dryly titled 2, is a difficult and challenging listen. The harmonies are brash and discordant, the rhythms complex and obtuse. Improvisation is important to the pieces, but it can take a back seat to hooks. And these hooks aren’t necessarily melodic.
The album begins with the 32-second assault of "Sokudo no Matsuri" before backing down and getting to business.
"Africa" repeats the same two music ideas, each repeat increasing in tempo before it dissolves into chaos. "Brazil no Omoide", as the title indicates, takes its inspiration from Brazilian music, but don’t expect the dulcet tones of Ann-Sally or Hatakeyama Miyuki.
Half-way through the album, the pieces slow down, but their intensity doesn’t let up. "Sangatsu no Tamori" moseys at a leisurely pace, getting more tense as the song progresses. "Gokumon Shima" streteches the deconstruction of a simple vibraphone melody over the course of 6 minutes.
owkmjn is a tight ensemble, incredibly nimble to navigate clashing rhythms while still leaving ample room for melody and improvisation. This band could swing if they wanted to, but it probably wouldn’t be much of a challenge for them.
If anything, owkmjn is reminiscent of Pigpen, Wayne Horvitz’s 1994 band inspired by his work with John Zorn’s Naked City. Pigpen could throw down some mean improvisation, but it was Horvitz’s talent for melody — and the quartet’s electrifying performances — that made its self-described "grunge jazz" not so unlikely.
owkmjn isn’t so much combining rock and jazz as it is ignoring the prerequisites of either genre. It’s a bit too smart for rock and a bit too dirty for jazz (at least in the conservationist vein.) So it makes me wonder whether 2 really is jazz. My instincts tell me so, and regardless of the answer, it’s still a rewarding album.