Live At Jazz Spot Combo 1975 constitutes the second entry from trumpeter Itaru Oki, who died in 2020, in the fascinating series of Japanese free jazz recordings licensed from the Chap Chap label by the Lithuanian NoBusiness imprint. It follows Kami Fusen (2017) which presented another live date from 21 years later. One of the pioneers of the music 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 was part of some acclaimed releases thereafter, Symphony For Old And New Dimensions (Ayler Records, 2009) in particular comes to mind.
Fourteen months into his European sojourn he returned home on a visit when he reunited with former trio colleagues, bassist Keiki Motorikawa and drummer Hozumi Tanaka, in a quartet completed by reedman Yoshiaki Fujikawa for a concert in the port city of Fukuoka. On five cuts they deftly mix unscripted excursions with loosely traced themes and reap the rewards of time shared on the bandstand. One benefit is that even when playing compositions, Motorikawa and Tanaka are able to interact without restraint, creating a stimulating underpinning for the horns.
The interplay between brass and woodwinds proves another attractive element of the set. While on trumpet Oki often paraphrases melodic progressions in his improvisations, even referencing standards at some points, Fujikawa on occasion pushes to the extremes, his guttural harshness offset by banshee squeals. At these times, Oki adds shrill flute pipings to the maelstrom to accentuate the untrammeled churn.
Oki's annunciatory trumpet shadowed by cymbals opens "Combo Session 1," before he introduces a minor key melody, embellished by Fujikawa's flute. Like much free jazz of the period, what ensues doesn't necessarily relate to the notated head, but strikes out into uncharted territory, bass and drums choppily generating tension, before a reprise. The group discourse is deeply engaging. There's an obvious connection between Fujikawa's snaky bittersweet alto saxophone exchanges with Tanaka's malletted drums on "Combo Session 2," while the extemporized "Combo Session 3" duet between the drummer and Oki's bright lyric trumpet, fluttering like a flag in a breeze, is one of the highlights of the 69-minute album.
This set offers yet another intriguing window into a scene with which many will be unfamiliar, but which contains countless surprises and merits in-depth investigation.
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