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Saturday, February 5, 2022

Akira Sakata / Takeo Moriyama - Mitochondria (Trost, 2022) *****

By Eyal Hareuveni

Mitochondria is a spectacular, historic live recording of two forefathers of the Japanese free jazz and free music scene - clarinet and alto sax player Akira Sakata (known from the Arashi Trio with Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and Swedish bassist Johan Berthling) and drummer Takeo Moriyama, who like, Sakata, collaborated, among many others, with Peter Brötzmann. This double album was recorded at Kashiwa Church in Chiba Prefecture in May 1986 on Sony stereo cassette recorder, and for its release was mixed by Jim O’Rourke (who collaborated with Sakata as a duo and as a quartet with Chikamorachi), mastered by Martin Siewert (of Radian), designed by Lasse Marhaug, and features the insightful liner notes were written by Kazue Yokoi from Jazz Tokyo, who saw them playing live in many occasions.

Sakata and Moriyama played together in the singular, influential trio of pianist Yosuke Yamashita, one of the pioneers of Japanese free jazz, from 1972 to 1975, when this trio took Europe by storm. The Yamashita Trio stressed its own original sensibility of free music, characterized by eruptive, overwhelming energy spiced with a strong political vibe that reflected the student movement era, quite different from the American or European free jazz or free music of this time (check, for example, the Yamashita Trio’s Clay, Enja, 1974, recorded at Moers Festival in Germany). This period of the Yamashita Trio is considered as its golden age, and an important step in the development of Sakata and Moriyama’s careers and musicianship. Moriyama left the trio in 1975 and Sakata in 1979.

The reunion performance of Sakata and Moriyama, now as a piano-less duo, unconstrained by chords, allowed these two young masters greater degrees of freedom. Moriyama has perfected his distinctive style of drumming, which involved the random strike of the 2 and 3, in quintuplets, and together with the velocity with which these hits were rendered, offered him a freeform impression, still grounded by a sense of powerful groove. Sakata was a devotee of free jazz, known for his energetic drive. Both Sakata and Moriyama knew how to draw the essential elements of each other to benefit this ecstatic performance.

Sakata opens s the A-side of this performance with “Archezoa”, a poetic and lyrical clarinet solo. The following “Mitochondria” and “Hachi” were of the Yamashita Trio’s repertoire (the latter in the Yamashita Trio’s classic Chiasma, MPS, 1976), with Sakata on alto sax, explode instantly and sound like Sakata and Moriyama’s response and homage to John Coltrane and Rashied Ali’s iconic duo Interstellar Space (Impulse!, 1974). Sakata and Moriyama are possessed on these pieces by fiery and liberating, spiritual energy and passion. The B-side tells completely different stories. “Tsui-oku (Reminiscence)” is an emotional, beautiful duet, with Sakata singing with his clarinet and dancing with the Moriyama’s free pulse. Moriyama’s solo “Satsuki (May)” highlights his idiosyncratic sense of time and space, infectious groove and his inimitable sound. This side is concluded with an uplifting, gospel-ish cover of Albert Ayler’s “Ghosts”, covered before by the Yamashita Trio (Montreux After Glow, Frasco, 1976), and Sakata here quotes again a phrase from the Japanese children's song “Akatombo (Red Dragonfly)”, as he did with the Yamashita Trio.

The C-side opens with a playful, super fast and intense yet precise cover of Yamashita Trio’s classic “Chiasma”, where Sakata and Moriyama’s eruptive and boundless energies take this piece from one cathartic climax to another. The same kind of energetic, almost dance-like playfulness is featured also on the free jazz “Dance”, solidifying the telepathic dynamics of Sakata and Moriyama. The D-side concludes this landmark performance with “Wann kann ich sie wiedersehen”, covered later by Sakata’s all-star band (Mooko, NEC Avenue, 1988). Sakata sings the emotional melody on his alto sax with great passion and Moriyama, who takes the role that Ronald Shannon Jackson played later, suggests a sparse groove and imaginative cymbal work.