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Itaru Oki: Kami Fusen

John Sharpe By

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This second instalment from NoBusiness Records collaboration with the Japanese Chap Chap label under the name of trumpeter Itaru Oki constitutes a real find. One of the pioneers of free jazz in his native country, Oki moved to Paris in 1974, subsequently working with many luminaries including saxophonists Steve Lacy, Noah Howard and Sam Rivers, and has been part of some acclaimed releases since, Symphony For Old And New Dimensions (Ayler Records, 2009) in particular comes to mind. But this date, recorded live on a return home in 1996, is also deserving of a wider audience.

Alongside Oki are his countryman Nobuyoshi Ino on bass and special guest Korean trumpeter Choi Sun Bae. The novel instrumentation might seem a stretch were it not for the excellence of the bassist who once collaborated on an album entitled Duet with AEC maverick Lester Bowie (Paddle Wheel, 1985). He does the heavy lifting here to keep the unit grounded. Although propulsive, supple and inventive, he still makes opportunities to interject dialogue with the soloists. Ino also contributes two compositions, along with a pair from Oki and two standards, ensuring that the program embraces the jazz tradition with abundant time and melody.

It's the fluid interplay between the trumpeters, and their interaction with the bassist which is one of the main plus points of this set. Oki exhibits a lyricism indebted to Miles Davis, but also snarls and splutters, and extends his scope with bamboo flutes. Choi is perhaps more adventurous and tonally wide ranging, his lines punctuated by whooshes and subterranean growls. As such they attain a pleasing balance between the honeyed and the acerbic, nowhere better displayed than on Oki's "Ikiru" which starts with expressive bleating by the muted brass, and then continues with the bass offering rich counterpoint to each trumpet in turn.

Each of the charts incorporates open elements, but does so in unanticipated ways. On "Pon Pon Tea" Ino's ambling bass upholds the pulse but also pursues skipping diversions into freeform, while the title track begins ominously with trumpet murmurs backed by a repeating arco figure, before developing an Americana-tinged hymnal feel. Oki takes "I Remember Clifford" alone and "Old Folks / Tea For Two" with only Ino for company. In comparison to the imaginative originals, the standards are played straight without irony and while they still bear testament to the tension between Oki's lyrical streak and his freewheeling ethos, they are ultimately less compelling.

Track Listing: Pon Pon Tea; Yawning Baku; Ikiru; Kami-Fusen; I Remember Clifford; Old Folks / Tea for Two.

Personnel: Itaru Oki: trumpet, bamboo flute; Nobuyoshi Ino: bass; Choi Sun Bae: trumpet.

Title: Kami Fusen | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: NoBusiness Records

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