Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Miles Okazaki - The Sky Below (Pi Recordings, 2019)

This is guitarist Miles Okazaki's fifth album of original compositions, coming after his ambitious 2018 project where he recorded the Thelonious Monk songbook for solo guitar. He is accompanied by Matt Mitchell on piano, Fender Rhodes and Prophet-6, Anthony Tidd on electric bass and Sean Rickman on drums. "Rise and Shine" houses nimble guitar, subtle bass and piano, and as the drums enter the band kicks into gear with the full group developing a complex interaction. Mitchell moves to electric keyboard to interact with the bass and drums at a fast pace, and the guitar returns for a tight and well controlled feature, with Mitchell deftly moving back to acoustic piano and anchoring the closing section. Funky electric bass opens "Dog Star" with keyboards and slinky guitar creating an interesting groove, and the music drives forward with Okazaki's guitar leading the charge with the drums providing powerful accents. The band is really locked in and playing very well together, supporting the leader who is pushing headlong through the performance in a very impressive manner. "Seven Sisters" has acoustic guitar sounding bright and clear amid muted but active percussion, with Okazaki then moving to electric guitar in conjunction with electric piano, creating abstract sounds that seem to hang in the air. The music builds from the nebulous nature to something more solid with stronger electric guitar lines meeting crisp bass and drums. "Monstropolous" uses heavy drums, electric bass, manic electronic keyboards and guitar going all out in a collective fusion improvisation, which is very exciting and free sounding. The music is wild and rambunctious, and Mitchell and Okazaki t stretch out, reveling in the interplay and the freedom that the enhanced instruments allow. "The Castaway" mellows the mood a bit, medium tempo blending ideas from each of the instruments, with the guitar developing a more piercing, laserlike tone. This gives the performance focus and the guitarist crafts a fine feature, leading into a section of acoustic piano, bass and drums. There is a bouncier feeling to "The Lighthouse," with the band playing together closely on the theme in a very intricate pattern, Okazaki breaking out for a well articulated guitar solo and building it slowly and patiently creating an architectural marvel. Mitchell plays a lush and rippling piano feature over bubbling bass and drums, and the band returns together closing a wonderful modern jazz performance. "To Dream Again" is the closing piece that uses guitar and drums creating an atmospheric sound that gradually develops in unexpected ways. Sounds bend and twist with the guitar eventually becoming more prominent, with a pinched stinging tone cutting through the keyboards and muscular drumming. This was a very good album of modern jazz played by a band of thoughtful, open minded musicians. The music is complex but compelling and the performances that the band develop are consistently interesting and worthy of merit. The Sky Below - amazon.com

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