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Sunday, October 6, 2019

Wadada Leo Smith with Pheeroan akLaff | Akira Sakata & Chikamorachi

Wadada Leo Smith

Thursday, October 3rd, 8:00 PM 
Brooklyn Music School Theater

By Eric Stern

Blank Forms has been presenting some of the most innovative and interesting programming that New York has seen this year. Thursday evening was no exception. On this night the Brooklyn Music School Theater was the site of live performances by Akira Sakata with Chikamorachi and the duo of Wadada Leo Smith and Pheeroan akLaff. The show was well attended, though it did not quite sell out the two hundred and sixty plus seats.

Akira Sakata and Chikamorachi
The rhythm section, known as Chikamorachi, is made up of bassist Darin Gray and drummer Chris Corsano. The duo has performed with Sakata since 2005, and they are as locked-in as can be. The trio in turn has worked repeatedly with guitarist Jim O’Rourke. Prior to the formation of the trio with Chikamorachi, Sakata was perhaps best known for an appearance on Last Exit’s recording titled The Noise of Trouble (Live in Tokyo) featuring Peter Brötzmann, Bill Laswell, Sonny Sharrock, Shannon Jackson, and Herbie Hancock. This might give you some idea of the power Sakata possesses on his horns.

In anticipation of this performance, I took the opportunity to go to the James Cohan gallery in Tribeca the night before to see Sakata play with Darin Gray. This show was also presented by Blank Forms. While the improvised performances were different, there are certain elements which seem to reappear in Sakata’s work. Sakata opened both performances with an extended demonstration of his saxophone work. Unlike many fire-breathing players, Sakata never loses his tone. Nearly every note is perfectly formed, bending but not cracking. On both nights he demonstrated total mastery, and it is this aspect of his playing that is most mesmerizing and compelling.

Portions of both performances were centered on Sakata's vocalisms. His complete control over the sounds he creates enables him to generate an emotional response from his audience, and the interplay of artist and audience is an organic part of the experience. Having had the opportunity to see him twice in 24 hours, I was impressed by how effective this aspect of his work is.

Pheeroan akLaff and Wadada Leo Smith
After an extended intermission, Wadada Leo Smith and Pheeroan akLaff began their performance. This was all about deep focus. As Smith noted at the end of the evening, he has worked with akLaff since he was nineteen. There is a level of telepathic communication here which drives the music. They seem to merge into one being and breathe together for the entirety of the performance.

As both musicians have worked together repeatedly over the years, including on Ten Freedom Summers (2012) and America’s National Parks (2016), this evening was exciting as it afforded a rare opportunity to see them as a duo. akLaff played with a bit more force than normally while his partner, in contrast, seemed to be in a more cerebral mode. Smith’s tone on the trumpet is simply gorgeous. His recent purple patch as a composer sometimes masks just how great a player he truly is. I highly recommend seeing this duo at every opportunity presented.

A word about the venues. The James Cohan gallery in Tribeca is a beautiful open space. Most of audience sat on the floor, but a few chairs were made available for the comfort of older guests. The sound was good, and Blank Forms is curating at this gallery an ongoing series of free live performances during the month of October.

The Brooklyn Music School is an older venue, which is located near the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and the Barclays Center, which means it is easy to get to by mass transit. It is a Spanish-style theatre which still has the wooden seats which speak to its antiquity. Blank Forms has had a knack for finding underutilized rooms for its shows, and this is another venue promoters should keep in mind.


Richard Leach said...

Fine review of a great concert, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Sakata ist known forbeing a part of the Yamashita Trio.