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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Akira Sakata/Giovanni Di Domenico/Roger Turner/John Edwards - 15.01.14 (OTOROKU, 2016) ****½

By Joel Barela

Drone. String scratch.  Sax.  Eruptive drums.  Di Domenico finally lays his hands on the keys.  Two minutes in to the near-39-minute track, some semblance of ensemble play emerges - emphasis on the some.  Di Domenico bleeds his keys, drop-by-arpeggiated-drop.  Sakata's phrases are fierce and declarative; as always, his improvising is wild, his stretched notes wretched and beautiful at once. Just past five minutes, Sakata's repetitive phrases prompt a sustained kick and arco-on-repeat from the rhythm section while Di Domenico's hands cascade down the keys before pouring on a series of block chords.  Sakata continues to be Sakata; the best part: so does everyone else.  Which is to say that while the mad saxophonist has earned the right to stomp over songs exactly when and exactly how he pleases, it isn't always a given that his bands will do the same.  Here, they do.

I've written enough "this isn't jazz" or "isn't necessarily jazz" or "isn't free jazz" in my recent reviews to delight in writing now that this is absolutely FREE jazz. Seven-and-a-half minutes into Kaigara-Bushi - based on a traditional folk song - there has yet to be a clearly defined solo.  Everyone on stage seems game to play anything they wish all at once.  And, awesomely, it works.

A minute later, Di Domenico gets a drum rumble with cymbal hits like knife slashes, a power-walked bass turned arco pulls to match the cymbal hits and no Sakata. He uses the space to cut the demented rhythm sound with the highest of treble drops. But it's fleeting, as Sakata returns a minute later to twist the bones of the song into something ponderous and murderous at once.  At the 10:30 mark, Di Domenico takes the piece into something comparatively meditative, though Sakata's alto antagonizes in steady complaints and Turner is all too willing to follow the bandleader in cranked dynamic runs.

Two minutes later, all gives to a drumroll.  Then a single left-handed piano chord.  Scratched notes; then: Sakata.  But not on reeds.  He coughs.  Then growls.  Wretches and shrieks, and then growls a scat. The band responds to this call, then cedes the floor to his grunts and mumbled vowels.  He blows a few notes, screams a bit, then interprets his own vocal eruptions on his "main" instrument. Oddly enough, his screamed nonsense leads Sakata into his most melodic and lyrical improvising to this point.  It reminds of Coltrane at Temple University; but Sakata's done this before - notably, on last year's Flying Basket.  Its closest relative stylistically might be Tristan Honsinger's growled phrases on last year's incredible Henry Crabapple Disappear by In the Sea.

From here, the playing becomes much more contemplative.  It doesn't slow so much as stretch to near-silence between combustible phrases.  Turner taps and Di Domenico plays elastic plinks that seem like nighttime reflections, simultaneously sincere and unsure of themselves.  They're lovely, and potentially dangerous.  At 25:30, Sakata shakes his bells at Di Domenico's ponderings.  The procession, initially a hellcart of sorts, becomes something more dreamlike, even saccharine.  Hardly a bad thing; in fact, it's a nice respite before Sakata soils the finery with a nocturne-on-psychedelics moan.  Later, Sakata erupts in growled phrases once more, followed by two bass plucks, two cymbal crashes and some left-hand menace.  Sakata growls again, then screeches the whole piece to silence before raising his reeds again.

What to do after a 39-minute opener of such high theatrics? Instead of coffee & cigarettes, the band goes full street brawl with a four-and-a-half minute fire jam appropriately called Tornado.

In case it isn't obvious, Sakata-san is a musician whose product seems uniquely suited to my twisted sonic preferences.  As the initial piece in the set slides into its final melodic musings, we see clearly the dynamic gap and perfect fit Di Domenico's classical style is for Sakata's wildness.  I have never set foot in Cafe OTO (an issue of location, not choice), but I really wish I'd been there on this night. And I love how the simplicity of the album's title vibes perfectly with Sakata's prevailing aesthetics. His unhinged improvisations and manic vocal manipulations seem foreign and exotic and maddening to so many, but for Sakata, it's just another date, another gig, another day in the life.  Awesome.