Originally released in 1985, Japanese composer Yoshi Wada’s album Off the Wall consists of a single 40-minute composition for pipe organ, bagpipes and percussion. Certain listeners may be immediately put off by that unusual combination of timbres; yet others will be most curious, and this cathartic album, newly reissued by Saltern, will likely reward adventurous ears, and will definitely wake them up.

Wada recently told BOMB magazine about the time in the late ’60s when, fresh out of art school in Kyoto, he moved to New York and took in a jazz scene rich with performances by Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins and Cecil Taylor. Of certain neighborhoods, Wada was warned, “not to go there late at night. But when people say not to go, it’s more interesting. I had to take a risk.” Known as a relatively conventional jazz saxophonist in Japan, Wada took risks to hear music, and to make music.

Off the Wall was one of the more elusive titles from FMP (Free Music Production), one of the great laboratories of improvised music. The label released challenging experimental music, such as Cecil Taylor’s monumental Berlin residency in 1988 (the box set is now only available through bandcamp) among many other titans of challenging music that expands the boundaries of jazz. Off the Wall is one of the more unusual releases in the label’s august catalog, and although it’s not the only album on FMP to feature bagpipes or pipe organ, it may well be the only one to feature both.

The music emerged from a residency Wada spent in West Berlin in 1983, in a high-ceilinged studio not far from the Berlin Wall. It was a practice space that amplified instruments, built by Wada himself, that already sounded enormous. “Artists in the building complained sometimes because I was practicing too much and too loud,” he told BOMB, adding that as he and fellow musician Marilyn Bogerd practiced bagpipes, “we physically felt the strong bounce back of the sound from the walls.”

Wada created a score for the piece, leaving room for improvisation while creating a robust structure. The two-part composition launches immediately into an impressive drone of pipe organ (played by Bogerd) and bagpipes (performed by Wayne Hankin). The hypnotic, overwhelming sound swells in repeating motifs, and the musicians seem to breathe as if they’re a single creature, now agitated, now at relative rest. The almost medieval nature of these sounds suggests a beast from the sea; at the height of the album’s intense, minimal drone, the effect is something like Philip Glass turned up to 11.

The bagpipe may seem like an unlikely axe for such challenging music, jazz bagpipist Rufus Harley notwithstanding. Yet what makes the instrument so distinct is the drone pipe, whose constant, insistent sound can shake the walls of an ordinary music space; one can only imagine how immense it would sound echoing around a church. The title invokes memories of Michael Jackson, and the instrumentation is certainly idiosyncratic. But that title is also quite literal: its resonant din careens off studio walls that are unable to contain it.

The swelling, cresting drones sound otherworldly, but percussion grounds it at times as something martial, akin to a call to arms. This music can even be transformative, sending Wada into hallucinations as he practiced. He clarifies that, “I wasn’t taking drugs at that time. It wasn’t needed.” There are no guarantees that Off the Wall will have such an effect on every listener. But the limited vinyl edition of the record will at least make your floorboards shake, and probably upset the neighbors.

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