Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Miles Okazaki - Trickster (Pi Recordings, 2017)

Guitarist Miles Okazaki is well known for his complex compositions and nimble playing, and he uses these attributes to the fullest on his newest album, where the songs are inspired by the trickster myths of many different cultures. Since these characters are well known for slight of hand and offering things that are not always what they seem, these stories make for fine raw material which can be used to create composed and improvised music that is thoughtful and challenging. On this album, Okazaki is joined by Craig Taborn on piano, Anthony Tidd on bass and Sean Rickman on drums. The music they make is complex yet accessible, and takes the listener on a journey through a wide range of music, opening with "Kudzu" where there is a subtle rhythm that all of the musicians use as a jumping off point with rippling piano and guitar leading the way, including a spirited piano solo from Taborn, before the group comes together to close out the piece. The music is faster and more urgent on "Box in a Box," and the combination of instruments allows for varying degrees of intricacy in the improvised section. They show a bold imagination, stretching into unexpected areas, with brightly percussive piano and thoughtful drumming cutting a path through the music. The leader's guitar is interwoven with the other instruments, snaking though in an impressive fashion. "Eating Earth" has a mysterious vibe to it, with guitar and piano opening the tune, and then bass and drums filling in some of the wide open space. Gentle piano chords frame the music, with big droplets of sound falling from the sky amidst subtle drumming. The music has a shape-shifting nature to it and that brings a unique approach to their improvising, ending with a haunting piano coda. There is a rapid sensibility to "Black Bolt," which is a short and fast piece of music that moves forward relentlessly, with sparks of guitar and thick bass and drums demonstrating that stylistic cliches are not hinderances to their music. Muscular and rippling percussion and guitar open "The West" and build a great deal of enthusiasm into the performance, never landing in one set groove, but providing propulsion for a wide range of possibilities and playing with an impressive devotion and dedication. "The Calendar" follows immediately, and develops over nine minutes that cover a ride range of territory, engaging the head and body and melding both into a very compelling improvisation through which the musicians express their thoughts with prickly guitar and bounding rhythm which adds clarity and drive. "Caduceus" is quietly complex, softly exploring the nature of their chosen music. Taborn then jumps in, infusing the music with a bright modern jazz improvisation that brings a freshness to the music like a cool breeze and allows the true spirit of the music to emerge. Stark accompanied guitar is at the center of the concluding "Borderland" developing a haunted and sly sound that perfectly fits the overall theme of the music. This is a very good album, and the idea of taking inspiration from myths and legends provides a rich tapestry for the musicians to explore beyond the conventional borders of jazz. Trickster -

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