The second law of thermodynamics states that disorder is an ever-advancing force in the universe. Within the context of improvised music, entropy can often be a primary consideration. The jazz composer and performer both face an uphill battle organizing sounds into a coherent whole without obstructing the creative potential unleashed by ever-creeping entropy. Jazz (and to a increasing extent, modern classical music) offers its greatest rewards at the critical intersection between order and disorder, between structure and deviation, between theme and variation. (And, while we're on the subject, one can readily classify listeners' tastes in jazz by the amount of entropy they're willing to tolerate. Free jazz, high on entropy, attracts an altogether different audience than swing, heavy on structure.)
That meaty concept stated, one can view Doug Yokoyama's record Identities as a refreshingly creative interpretation of the interface between structure and disorder. (The title of the third track, in fact, makes this idea explicit.) Yokoyama is fortunate in having willing and sensitive colleagues to help explore these ideas. Tenor saxophonist Francis Wong uses his experience as a composer and a player to spur forward motion around corners and through sudden turns in the music. Bassist Trevor Dunn grasps the importance of providing a harmonic and rhythmic foundation, but still takes regular opportunities to tug the quartet away into moments of spontaneous discovery. Drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee plays a strong supporting role, mindful of the foundation and just as responsive to the on-the-spot changes that pop up regularly in Yokoyama's music.
Identities offers a generally low-key, melodic approach. Yokoyama's tone, lyrical like Paul Desmond's and hearty like Michael Moore's, smoothes the edges around the territory navigated by his group. Because he's not always eager to steal the spotlight, he makes it possible for the other members of the group to chime in as well. Of special note: bassist Trevor Dunn (who might be memorable to fans of the avant-rock outfit Mr. Bungle) has a distinctly angular melodic sense and a remarkable ability to make odd meters seem quite natural (the last track being a prime example). But it's the group interaction, and the tradeoff between players around melodic development, that marks Yokoyama's disc as a fine achievement. That and the way the musicians flirt with disorder, masking their creative leaps under the guise of common sense.
Personnel: Doug Yokoyama: alto saxophone; Francis Shih-Ming Wong: tenor saxophone; Trevor Dunn: acoustic bass; Elliot Humberto Kavee: drums.