Dental Kafka is already the sophomore album of Japanese sax hero Akira Sakata international quartet Bonjintan, following a self-titled release on Sakata’s label Daphinia in 2017. Bonjintan features Sakata on alto sax, clarinet, and voice, American, Tokyo-based Jim O’Rourke, of Gastr del Sol and Sonic Youth fame, on double bass, Italian pianist Giovanni Di Domenico and Japanese drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto.
All four musicians have collaborated before in many formats and outfits during the last decade. O’Rourke initiated recordings of Sakata, did the recording and mixing and produced some of his albums with the Chikamorachi trio (with double bass player Darin Grey and drummer Chris Corsano); Di Domenico took part in few of Sakata’s other international quartets and recorded with him a duo album (Iruman, Mbari, 2014). He also recorded with O’Rourke before, including with the Delivery Health trio with drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto; Yamamoto played in a one-off recording of the trio Kafka’s Ibiki with O’Rourke and his partner, pianist Eiko Ishibashi and in other trios with Di Domenico, including one with Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen. Dental Kafka was recorded at Hoshi to Niji studio, Kobuchizawa in June 2018.
Sakata sounds as taking a back seat in this quartet, although his voice - literally - is still the most dominant one in this collective. Dental Kafka opens with “Ape Huci Kamuy (God of Fire by Ainu people), a lament to the marginalized ethnic group in Japan, Ainu, where Sakata recites an angry text to the minimalist, tense music of Di Domenico, O’Rourke and Yamamoto. The title-piece alternates between a fiery, free jazz piece here with Sakata playing the alto sax and leading with a charismatic, organic flow and with a telepathic interplay with Di Domenico, pushed by the massive rhythm section of O’Rourke and Yamamoto, and a simple rhythmic conversation by Di Domenico, O’Rourke and Yamamato.
The other two extended pieces stress a more intimate, reserved, and poetic voice of Sakata, playing the clarinet. His singing solo introduces “Koro Koro Donguri”, setting the searching tone for a quiet free-improvisation that highlights the inventive colors of Yamamoto, but mid-piece he lets Di Domenico, who plays the Hohner pianet, to take the lead as he did on the title-piece, before Sakata concludes with a short, complaining speech. The last “Bonjin” is even more introspective. The quartet plays here like a four-headed organism, with great conviction, flowing elegance, and poetic beauty.
That’s the beauty of Sakata’s music and his bands. At his age, 75, he does not need to prove anything, but he will always will explore new territories surprise even the keen listener. When you go to some wild sonic trips with such an observant marine biologist you know that that there is a chance that you may encounter some engaging beasts and Bonjintan is one of the most fascinating ones.