Kusōzu : Nine Death Stages is the second album by the Tokyo trio Archeus, which consists of Keiko Higuchi (voice, percussion, trombone, shamisen), Shizuo Uchida (bass strings), and TOMO (hurdy gurdy, voice). It follows their debut, self-titled and self-released CD and cassette from 2021 and is further proof – if any were needed – that these musicians, who’ve known each other for some time, but only started playing together relatively recently, share a telepathic communication, improvising together, fully in the moment, and as one. Where their debut album featured four extended improvisations, Kusōzu is an object lesson in economy and clarity – nine tracks, thirty-three minutes, everything that needs be said and nothing more.
All three musicians are incredibly active in the Japanese underground. Higuchi currently plays with Sachiko in Albedo Fantastica, adding Uchida for Albedo Gravitas; Uchida and Higuchi team up with Masami Kawaguchi (guitar) in vDBG. She’s also recorded with improvisers such as Naoto Yamagishi, Yasumune Morishige, and Shin-Ichiro Kanda. Uchida is also a member of MAI MAO, Kito-Mizukumi Rouber, Hasegawa-Shizuo, UH, and TERROR SHIT, and he’s recently recorded with improvising guitarist Takashi Masubuchi; TOMO has previously been a member of Tetragrammaton and Pouring High Water, and has recently performed live with Mick of Kousokuya, Mitsuru Tabata, Keiji Haino, and Daisuke Takaoka.
While Higuchi and Uchida have been making music together for some time now, they appear careful not to impose their previously articulated lexicon to bear on Archeus. There are trace elements of their playerly voices still present – the stretchy, plastic scrabbling on bass strings from Uchida; Higuchi’s murmurations of tone, and sudden plunges back down to earth, vertiginous and woozy – but there are other things going on here, particularly with TOMO joining in the action. His hurdy gurdy is a wild card in a group of wild cards, here cranking out burred, purring drones, there fidgeting through floods of notes, cranked up really high, ducking and weaving between Higuchi and Uchida as the three pursue the eternal now that is core to the best improvised music.
Archeus seem to work alchemically, transmuting their base matter into gold. Named after the Buddhist art practice of kusōzu, the graphic painting of nine stages of a decaying corpse in the open air, “to demonstrate the effects of impermanence,” as scholar Gail Chin once wrote.
Kusōzu : Nine Death Stages is Archeus at their most rigorously attentive to each other’s playing, and by the end, the music is itself thinking and feeling.