Steve Jansen & Richard Barbieri: Lumen

Nine years on, the Japan pair’s avant-garde music sounds current.

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In 1996, Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri played their only live show together at The Milky Way in Amsterdam, where they were joined by their one‑time Japan bandmate Mick Karn, as well as Steven Wilson.

At the time, the show was only released on cassette, and even then in a very limited edition. However, it’s now been pressed up on vinyl, and Lumen allows you to hear just why this live recording is perhaps the definitive representation of what Jansen and Barbieri had been striving to achieve on their three studio albums. There was always a sense with this pair that they were trying to second-guess where Japan might have gone had that band not split up in 1982. And those studio records definitely gave the impression that the duo perceived them as conundrums in the process of resolution, and by no means finished compositions. Onstage in Amsterdam, these musical mood pieces are expanded and explored, with both Wilson and Karn adding some fluent, valuable extra touches. Opening with Sleepers Awake, there’s a joyous, incandescent shimmer about the performance as the basic notations of the original are restructured, without losing any of its coherence. This is not a jam, but a disciplined re-enactment. The same is true on both sides of the vinyl. The Night Gives Birth has an almost covert melody, with Wilson punctuating some solemn keyboards from Barbieri (his Porcupine Tree bandmate), and Long Tales, Tall Shadows has a spindly percussive turn from Jansen. The lengthy Beginning To Melt is the concluding passage here, and has a searching electronic pulse that’s experimentally dark, with sapping, claustrophobic striation. Years ahead of their time, Lumen makes you wish these four had persevered, played more live dates together and gone into the studio to record music. As it is, this is now a very contemporary-sounding album, and it’s one that is sure to appeal to everyone who has an open heart and mind.