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Friday, October 13, 2023

Great Sakata Trio - Siren, Sticks & Circus (Euphorium, 2023)

By Martin Schray

The recordings for Oliver Schwerdt’s projects with Christian Lillinger and the double basses are almost always made at live concerts in Leipzig’s Club naTo. Before the main act, the quintet itself, there is often a trio in which the two basses are left out. That’s how Schwerdt had handled it with the New Old Luten Quintet as well as with Big Bad Brötzmann, and this was also the sequence he chose for the Great Sakata project.

Now, of course, a bass-less trio with Akira Sakata always evokes memories of the legendary Yosuke Yamashita Trio (the second outfit with Sakata on alto), a group that played with the utmost collective energy, ejecting its music volcano-like and transforming it into incandescent lava flows, as the German journalist Bert Noglik put it. But while Yamashita’s playing was always rooted in Japanese traditions, Schwerdt’s is infused with European classical and new music. So here Sakata’s total expenditure of energy, his roaring and writhing, collide with Schwerdt’s sometimes brutal, teutonic force and Lillinger’s postmodern mix of styles, that he can call up within a millisecond.

Schwerdt himself was simply thrilled after the concert because Sakata’s slender alto reminded him a lot of Luten Petrowsky. That said, there are indeed several highlights in this short, 16-minute performance, e.g. when after five minutes Sakata’s lightning-like runs meet Schwerdt’s powerful clusters in the lower registers, while Lillinger remains subtly and calmly in the background. Or the immediately following passage, which comes across like an ultra-sombre ballad.

In general, the set lives from a contrast between high speed and delicacy, prolixity and condensation. Towards the end there’s a passage with bells and whistling, with which the listeners are led astray, because you think you have arrived at the end of the piece. However, the trio starts all over and the tempo is increased tremendously again. The ending comes relatively abrupt. Simply perfect.

Siren, Sticks & Circus is available as a mini-CD. You can get it from Oliver Schwerdt directly or from the label’s bandcamp site.