Tuesday, May 3, 2022

A Sonic Taste of "Thisness" + Classic "Thatness"


In 2015, guitarist, composer, and conceptualist Miles Okazaki built a new ensemble which, ultimately, took its name Trickster from its 2017 eponymous debut Pi Recordings. Utilizing the brilliant rhythm section, bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Sean Rickman, from Steve Coleman's Five Elements plus pianist Craig Taborn (replaced in 2018 by Matt Mitchell).  The music couldn't help but be affected by the guitarist's many appearances with Coleman's group. But, the music has matured.

Okazaki's latest album with the quartet, "Thisness" (Pi Recordings), has a different feel from its three predecessors. Besides piano, Mitchell plays Fender Rhodes and Prophet–6 synthesizer and the four original pieces are the longest (all between 9:27 and 10:04). The song titles were adapted from the Sun Ra poem "The Far Off Place"; the music does have an exploratory feel throughout. Also, to get the full effect of the music, listen through headphones or in a room with really sensitive speakers. There is a lot going on over the course of these songs, overdubs of several guitars and keyboards that one will want to hear to get the full sonic picture.  The mix of the thick bass tones, the powerful percussion, the strong piano chords, and Okazaki's fascinating acoustic and electric guitar work keeps one's interest throughout.  The music feels "in the moment", spontaneous each time you listen.

"In Some Far Off Place" opens the album in subdued fashion. This listener is reminded of several ballads of Jimi Hendrix (as well as John Lennon's "Julia" later on) in the early moments as the leader's overdubbed guitars move gracefully through the aural landscape. Listen closely, there are wordless vocals that show up now and then.  Halfway through, the music changes direction, becoming more rhythmical (noticeable in the guitar solo and work of the rhythm section. Synth washes can be heard and then the tempo picks up with much more urgency. It's never overwhelming even as the guitars move around in the mix. The various trails of the music intersect as the band moves forward––kick back, enjoy the journey.

Musical magic can be heard on each track. The rock-solid rhythms beneath the guitar and rippling piano phrases on "Years in Space", the song powered by Tidd's hard-hitting bass lines clearing the path for the soloists while Rickman hits the snare, it pops! "I'll Build a World" literally jumps off the starting line but pay attention to the calming Fender Rhodes underneath the rapid-fire melody lines.  As the piece develops, the pace slows for a moment for a piano solo while Rickman (listed as co-writer) dances beneath.  Halfway through, the drummer instigates a musical call-and-response with the guitar and piano––such an invigorating interaction.

"And wait for you" truly kicks in on the strength of the funkified drums and pumping bass lines. The electric guitar and Fender Rhodes dance atop Tidd's solo phrases until Okazaki plays a rhythm figure that could easily have been created by Nile Rodgers (Chic) or Leo Nocentelli (The Meters).  The guitar solo moves back and forth into the groove until music changes directions for an acoustic piano solo that turns into an interaction between guitar phrases from several overdubbed guitars. 

"Thisness" is an album to play on repeat. Not only does the music sound alive but also, on subsequent listens, one begins to understand the pathways in these compositions. This music is never static; like a river, its current can be swift but the eddies are enthralling. Miles Okazaki continues to mature as a composer and musician while the Trickster ensemble is a wonderful vehicle for both his playing and conceptual adventures.

For more information, go to www.milesokazaki.com.  To hear more and purchase "Thisness" and other albums with this ensemble, go to https://milesokazaki.bandcamp.com/album/thisness

Hear Miles Okazaki & Trickster perform "I'll Build a World":

1970 was quite the year for Soft Machine. The trio of Mike Ratledge (Hohner pianet, Lowrey Holiday Deluxe organ), Robert Wyatt (drums, vocals), and Hugh Hopper (electric bass) continued its move towards electric jazz-fusion by adding Elton Dean (alto saxophone, saxello) and Lynn Dobson (soprano and tenor saxophones, flute, harmonica, vocals) as well as, for a very short time in late 1969, trombonist Marc Charig (as far as I know, there are no live recordings with him).  The new quintet's music sounded influenced as much by Miles Davis's move towards fusion on "In A Silent Way" as by American composer Terry Riley's mixture of electric instruments and improvisation on "A Rainbow in Curved Air". 

There are a slew of bootleg "live" albums of the band in 1970 but now Cuneiform Records has officially released "Facelift France and Holland". Both sets, the first recorded on January 17, 1970 at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, the second on March 2, 1970, at the Théâtre de la Musique in Paris, feature the Quintet in full flower. Both the CD and vinyl versions have the full video of the later show. The 2-CD + DVD and the 2-Lp + DVD (this package won't be available until 12/31/2022) as well as the digital version are programmed with the March concert first.  The later show is longer (71:15) than the earlier one (44:36) but fans won't mind.  The sound quality on the January concert recording is fairly impressive (editing at the end of the first track is sloppy though) while the March show sounds a bit more distant at times (CD buyers get a third disc with a previously unreleased soundboard recording of the March program.

As for the music, four of the songs played in these concerts would appear on the Soft Machine's Columbia Records June 1970 debut "Third".  Those tracks include "Facelift", "Slightly All The Time", "Moon In June", and "Out-Bloody-Rageous".  The older album's "Facelift" does feature the Quintet as it was recorded on January 4, 1970, two weeks before the Paris concert version.  It's fun to hear the bigger group. Both Dobson and Dean play with abandon as does Wyatt. While his playful vocals would soon disappear from the band's repertoire as would he the following year. He was the right drummer for this music bringing the zany yet rhythmically strong performances this music called for.  The sounds that Ratledge gets out of the organ are often other-worldly, blending well with the soprano sax and the saxello (a Bb soprano sax). Hopper's electric bass lines help the music from flying totally out of control while his "fuzz" bass really thickens the sounds,.

Pieces such as "Mousetrap" and "Eammon Andrews" blend jazz and rock while the afore-mentioned "Facelift" and "Slightly All the Time" are prime examples of "electric jazz".  If you are curious about this most fertile time of jazz-fusion, "Facelift France and Holland" gives a particular English take. The Soft Machine would go on to influence distinctively British bands like Hatfield & The North, National Health, and Gilgamesh. Wyatt started Matching Mole after his departure continuing to mine his unique vocal style to adventurous music.  Ratledge, Hopper, and Dean would add drummer John Marshall, guitarist Allan Holdsworth, and reeds/keyboard player Karl Jenkins who would take over the group in 1976.   Still, this fascinating release illustrates just how impressive an ensemble the group was in 1970. 

The group still exists with Marshall on the drums, Holdsworth's replacement John Etheridge, young reeds player Theo Travis, and the newest member bassist Fred Thelonious Baker who joined in January 202 (replacing Roy Babbington who had replaced Hopper in the mid-1970s).  To find out more and get a history of the band, go to www.softmachine.org

For more information and to purchase "Facelift France and Holland", go to  https://cuneiformrecords.bandcamp.com/album/facelift-france-and-holland-3.

Here's a taste of "Moon in June" recorded 01/17/70 in The Netherlands:

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