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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Lena Circus + Itaru Oki - Zanshin (Improvising Beings, 2016) ***1/2

By Nicola Negri

Itaru Oki – trumpet, flugelhorn
Nicolas Moulin – guitar
Antoine Letellier – guitar, sax, trumpet
Guillaume Arbonville – drums

The French label Improvising Beings continues its mission to document the best instances of today’s improvised music and to provide new venues for important historical figures of the scene. This new release is a perfect synthesis of those tendencies, as it witnesses the encounter between Itaru Oki, one of the very first exponents of free jazz in Japan, with the younger musicians of the French trio Lena Circus.

The record opens in an exploratory mood, with the trio providing a spacey backdrop for Oki’s playing – a discreet electric soundscape that highlights the trumpeter’s beautifully nuanced tone and peculiar phrasing. The following tracks alternate between this suspended mode of expression and more tightly knit exchanges, with an ear to the history of electric jazz but pointing in interesting new directions. The guitars for the most part assume the role of pure sound generators, freeing the music from defined harmonic cages, while the dialogue between trumpet and drums usually stays in a more traditional dimension, with a loose, relaxed rhythmic connection. Latellier sometimes adds his saxophone and trumpet to the mix, further enriching the sound palette.

The general contours of the performance are mainly static, built on different complementary layers with little concern for structural developments, preferring a stream of consciousness type of improvisation in which ideas flow freely. The best moments come when the dreamy atmosphere is disturbed by more intense guitar interventions, where the musicians are pulled out of their comfort zone to approach the music with fresh energy and unusual ideas, finding new inputs in the open contrasts of the different instrumental voices of the ensemble.

The last track is particularly interesting, beginning with a refreshingly simple trumpet and drums rendition of the jazz standard “Love For Sale”, soon joined by the guitars and growing into an increasingly loud, menacing electric storm that ends the album abruptly, underlining the spontaneousness and the peculiar, unresolved quality of this record.

Zanshin is a stimulating first meeting between a master of free music and three younger but already capable improvisers, that promises even more interesting further developments.