Click here to [close]

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Great Sakata Quintet - Tornado (Euphorium, 2023)

By Martin Schray

For more than ten years Oliver Schwerdt has been pursuing a concept. Together with Christian Lillinger and two bassists, he has persistently put a reeds player in front of this cart (preferably saxophone and clarinet). It started with Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky (the fabulous New Old Luten Quintet), and continued with Peter Brötzmann (Big Bad Brötzmann). While Schwerdt was still playing with the Brötzmann group, he was looking for a new alpha dog, who - on the one hand - could be pushed by this monstrous rhythm section, but - on the other hand - could stand up to it at the same time. In the end, he found the great Akira Sakata, who fulfills this task in a grandiose manner.

To begin with, Tornado prepares the ground for the Japanese legend. Lillinger displays his filigree cymbal work and the two basses (this time Antonio Borghini and John Eckhardt) complement each other nicely, alternating bowing and plucking. When the somber piano kicks in, you actually think you’re listening to a rising tornado. It drones and hisses, hums and flashes. The piano lines and chords condense, the energy concentrates. After three and a half minutes Sakata finally enters, the clarinet seems like a salvation and the tornado sets off and immediately blows in any possible direction: choppy sheet lightnings, abrupt piano cascades, clarinet runs like miniature typhoons, short pauses, which - however - only seem to bring relief. When this takes place, the wind instrument, the basses and the very reduced percussion are briefly left alone. However, the energy is never reduced, it only condenses in these passages. Highlights of the improvisation, however, as so often in Sakata’s performances, are his chants. Sometimes he only quotes Japanese epics in a mild voice, this time he roars and rages, he grumbles, screams and almost vomits out the words. At the same time, he moves at a pain threshold, as if he was shouldering all the suffering in the world. The middle of “Tornado“ is therefore also the climax. One believes to hear the force of nature acoustically realized - in Schwerdt’s piano swells, which of course remind of Taylor and Schlippenbach (but the man has worked out his own sound in the synthesis of different styles of the great masters), the wild bass runs of Borghini and Eckhardt and in the snare attacks of Lillinger, which sound as if they are pitched high. Then, in the last third, Sakata switches to the saxophone and immediately the atmosphere changes. The darkness gives way to crystalline clarity, even if the great master likes to blur his tones. The sky clears up, we’re near the end of the storm.

I’ve often praised the soloists in my reviews of the New Old Luten Quintet or Big Bad Brötzmann (always rightly so), and I’ve already emphasized what an incredible development Oliver Schwerdt has made as a pianist over the years. And both Sakata and Schwerdt are quite outstanding on this recording. But this time it’s also time to highlight the two bassists and the drums. You may already know that Christian Lillinger can set-off sheer fireworks. He can hardly be surpassed in versatility and is perhaps the most exciting European drummer at the moment. Borghini and Eckhardt move an ominous mass in front of them on this recording so well matched, that one almost gets scared at some points. Especially together with the dark clarinet sound, the band develops a powerful, intimidating ground noise.

If there is a European formation today that can play in the tradition of Cecil Taylor’s Unit, then it’s this quintet. You just want to be swept away by this elemental force, you want to be part of the storm. The only tornado that creates and does not destroy. A miracle.

Tornado is available as a CD. You can get it from Oliver Schwerdt directly or from the label’s bandcamp site.