For many people, jazz represents in music the fulcrum of the scale that balances the attraction between body and mind. This continuum allows for a "big tent" approach, whereby one can find a place that is comfortable and expand out if one desires.
Mirror, guitarist Miles Okazaki's self-produced debut release, has all the markings of a deeply searching, highly emotional musician whose music nevertheless is the natural outgrowth of an intellectual curiosity that encompasses many fields, including literature and photography, but especially mathematics.
Music can be described as mathematics applied to physics mixed with the mystical, and many musicians like math and vice versa. The thing to remember when reading about Mirror is that the whole is much, much more than the sum of the parts and that the music can be heard on many levels simultaneously. Indeed, Okazaki's music makes a strong impact in the purely aural realm with many different grooves supporting many emotions, so understanding or even acknowledging the myriad details is not necessary to enjoy it.
However, delving into those details will surely enhance the listening experience, as repeated spins uncover another layer, sound, musical influence or rhythmic pattern that was not apparent before. The intricacy can be daunting and might be overwhelming except that the pulse, that most primal part of music, is always present, however mutated it might be at any given moment.
Mathematics and music unite in this music's use of rhythm and meter. At times the pulse is clear, while its subdivisions shift, while at others the meter is clear but the pulse is mutating, somewhat like Elliot Carter's metrical modulation. Drummer and tabla player Dan Weiss works particularly closely with Okazaki, and music's sinewy flexibility originates from his almost supernatural ability to maintain a groove while constantly shifting its parameters.
Flying over this intense rhythmic cauldron is reedman Christof Knoche and alto saxophonists Miguel Zenon and David Binney, plus Okazaki himself. The fifteen tracks, most of which run into each other, are grouped into three groups of five, making three small suites within the larger work.
The album is best listened to through, since there is a thematic thread running through the work, and the solos do not fit the standard head-solo-head pattern. Zenon and Binney, in particular, build to moments of pure abandon, and the South Asian use of music as mystical catalyst is never far away.
Anything said about Mirror is colored by experiencing the group in performance, where the control felt on the album is very much abandoned while the music's intensity is amplified.
The success of Mirror then, lies in the fact that the intricacies and intellect ultimately serve the music and the emotions it produces, and it can be played live. Highly recommended, and most definitely on this year's Best Of list.