The name Akira Miyazawa, rarely if ever, appears in jazz reference books, at least not in ones available in North America. Other than some sites selling his CDs, the internet does not offer much about the saxophonist. This is a shame since his recordings tell the story of an accomplished musician whose work has remained intriguing and fresh after almost four decades. Four Units is a reissue of a 1969 session that teams him with a Japanese rhythm sections for four originals and a jazzy reworking of "Scarborough Fair." The music threads the outer reaches of hard bop, adjacent to but not quite into the avant-garde realm. It also has a very Oriental feel to it, with the beautiful serenity of a Japanese Zen garden and the bluesy edge of a late night jam session.
The opening title track is the most adventurous. After Miyazawa's tenor sax states the angular but still melodious theme, the rhythm section improvises together and solos in tandem, using notes sparingly and the space between them very effectively. The other pieces also are edgy hard bop in style, with some adventurous soloing by Miyazawa on tenor and flute, along with the other members of the group. The closer, "Black Bass," is the closest to traditional hard bop.
Miyazawa sounds like Sonny Rollins on tenor but with slightly less bite in his tone. He only plays a little flute which, however, is not that memorable. Pianist Masahiko Satoh, who also arranged "Scarborough Fair," demonstrates strong classical sensibilities. Bassist Yasuo Arakawa and drummer Masahiko Togashi - who sounds a bit like Elvin Jones - have a unique rapport with each other when playing behind Miyazawa and Satoh in addition to being accomplished soloists in their own right.
The CD is exquisitely remastered and the artwork, with liner notes only in Japanese, is very elegantly designed. Four Units reveals a unique and talented musician whose work deserves better and more widespread recognition.
Personnel: Akira Miyazawa: tenor sax, flute; Masahiko Satoh: piano; Yasuo Arakawa: bass; Masahiko Togashi: drums.