Akira Sakata & Giovanni Di Domenico: Iruman (Mbari, 2014) ****
Interestingly enough – especially when you listen how easy it seems to be for Sakata – he has never played in a duo with a pianist before. It seems even more surprising that he does it now with Giovanni Di Domenico, a 37-year-old Italian musician who grew up in Africa and who has played with lots of the top dogs like Arve Henriksen, Toshimaru Nakamura or Alexandra Grimal. His album “Posh Scorch” with Nate Wooley and Chris Corsano was one of my favorite albums in 2013.
“Iruman” consists of ten mainly improvised tracks which combine traditional Japanese music, Western classical music and African influences as well as free jazz moments – but most of all some tracks remind of the music of Jimmy Giuffre.
“A Piece of Silence” sets the tone of the album, Di Domenico’s fragile tones almost show a relation to pianists like Colin Vallon, while Sakata’s bells and shakers sound like windchimes – you might feel like you are listening to an ECM production. Then, “Yellow Sand Blowing from China” presents Sakata on alto, his elegant sound contrasting Di Domenico’s hard touch on the piano. When Sakata plays the clarinet on “Lotus Blossom in an Old Pond”, “Water coming into Rice Field” and “The Peaceful Atmosphere of a Wood Sukiya-style Temple”, the Giuffre’s reminiscences are most obvious, the first one is the most beautiful track on the album being close to the border to classical chamber music, e.g. Brahms’ sonatas for clarinet and piano. When the musicians combine prepared piano sounds and percussion against Sakata’s chanting on “Voice from a Temple in the Deep Mountain”, which is very melancholic in contrast to his singing on “Arashi”, they show that their music is under constant change, all their different approaches are being displayed again and again. The final (and longest) track “Bud II” proves this: Compared to the elegant and subtle improvisations before, this is an aggressive back-and-forth conversation which is replaced by a cool-jazz-like middle part just to break free at the end again.
“Iruman” might even be called a romantic approach to improvisation, hardly ever has Sakata’s world been so accessible - flowing nicely in free structures as well as in an emotional atmosphere. A very recommendable album.
Listen to "Lotus Blossom in an Old Pond" here:
Akira Sakata, Fred Longberg-Holm, Ketil Gutvik, Paal Nilssen-Love: The Cliff of Time (PNL, 2014) ****
If you think that titles like “The Woman in the Dunes”, “The Dancing Girl of Izu”, “Face of Another” or “When a Woman Ascends the Stairs” indicate another rather melancholic album like “Iruman”, you are totally wrong.
“The Cliff of Time” rather resembles “Arashi”– not only because Sakata teams up with Paal Nilssen-Love again, he is also augmented by Ketil Gutvik on electric guitar and Chicago scene institution Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics. Gutvik has won his spurs playing with Nilssen-Love in his Large Unit and with Okkyung Lee and Kristoffer Alberts, and Lonberg-Holm and Nilssen-Love have been part of Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet and Ballister, their marvelous trio with Dave Rempis (among a lot of other projects). This being said, the direction of this musical journey is pretty clear – straight and pure Chicago/Skandinavian scene free jazz.
The most obvious difference to the other two albums is the fact that Sakata abstains from singing and that he only plays the clarinet on one piece – where it also sounds angry and fragmented. He is rather a team player on this recording which gives the others a greater possibility to shine – especially Ketil Gudvik. His guitar displays various influences, from Sonny Sharrock, John Russell, Derek Bailey to James “Blood” Ulmer. Gudvik hits the guitar and tears with both hands at the strings creating a wall of splintering notes, and in combination with Lonberg-Holm’s cello, which is – as usual - very often put through the effect grinder. The result is a tightly knit carpet of unusual sounds, it is like watching glass splinters pouring down from a safe distance.
Sakata uses this background to sound like in his old days with the Yamashita Trio, fresh, iconoclastic, consequent and aggressive. The music here is a rollercoaster of emotions, played by excellent musicians who seem to have great fun. And the sound is transparent and crispy too.
You can buy these albums from instantjazz.com.