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Miles Okazaki: Cleaning the Mirror

By Published: August 28, 2012
The process of creating Mirror, which also includes a lot of post-editing effects like backwards playing, created some issues that Okazaki sought to smooth out with later releases. "The Fibonacci thing, the idea of something growing and growing, was on a tune on that record called 'Invention,'" he says. "I didn't really know how to control it at the time and the chart for that thing is ridiculously long. The score for that record is 64 pages, which is really too much sheet music. I didn't know how to get to the core of the idea. I was about 20 years old and didn't have the edit thing happening. I have the same ideas but they weren't really refined then. I still like the record, it represents a certain moment in time, but some of the music is more complex than it should be. There's a track on there called 'Spiral' that we were never able to perform live because it was just too difficult. It was basically a studio creation."

The sophomore release continued on the same path as Mirror, but created a more streamlined process. Generations, (which has the same core personnel but adds in Binney and vocalist Jen Shyu
Jen Shyu
Jen Shyu
), was recorded as a single take. This ended up creating a much more organic process for all involved.

"On Generations,"Okazaki explains, "it's not as tightly packed as the first record, because I planned Mirror really precisely. It moves really quickly through all these elements. "Generations" is more like a performance; it has the more natural ebb and flow of a live set. That's why I wanted to do it in one take, besides the fact that it saves a lot of money. There are more subtle rhythmic things, like things slowly changing into other material. The name comes from things being generated; one thing creates something else. One element might generate something else, but it'll take a while to grow there. The mood is more contemplative. It's supposed to be one thing. They're the same ideas as Mirror, but more trimmed down. I was dealing with how many things could be generated with these seeds, which goes for rhythm, melody and harmony. A lot of it has to do with the improvisations.

"There was a very specific thing I wanted to do with triads with the three horns, which is sort of symbolic, you know, a trinity thing," Okazaki continues. "I wanted it to be a real dense kind of closely voiced sound in the same register. With me, I can switch between being a rhythm section person or being a melodic voice, so I go back and forth."

Figurations further purified the process by removing the presence of takes, recorded live at the Jazz Gallery. By this point, Okazaki had reached the point where he more or less found the elements he needed. "Doing it live was something I wanted to do to create the natural progression of things and capturing the vibe a particular moment and particular evening, where I wasn't too concerned about mistakes or imperfections," Okazaki explains.

What sets Okazaki's presence as an instrumentalist and composer apart from many other guitarists is that the records he makes are not necessarily "guitar records." In the liner notes to Mirror, he states that while the guitar may guide the course of the record, the central focus is on the ensemble. Okazaki reflects this sentiment in his presence as a musician.

"As a functional musician," he says, "I want to know as much as I can about my instrument. I'm fairly obsessed with the technique of the instrument, the history of the players, all of the different ways the guitar is played around the world, the different things I can bring to it, classical guitar, etcetera. I'm interesting in pushing the limit as much as possible, what I can do physically to deal with the guitar and to do that at the highest level I possibly can. But with music, I try not to think about the guitar anymore. I just want to be able to use that and not have any barrier with it. So all the physical stuff is work that I put in every day, but I don't think of that as music, I think of that as calisthenics. I still get a good feeling of it, working on speed and accuracy, but I think of music as everything else."

Much like other "conceptual musicians," Okazaki is also uninterested in forcing his viewpoint of the extra-musical concepts of his compositions on his fellow instrumentalists. "I don't want everyone else to be like me," he says. "I want everyone else to be who he or she is. That's what makes it interesting to play in a group. I would probably prefer to just not say anything and deal with how people react to what I present. Whatever they do is always going to be better than what I have planned.

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