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Miles Okazaki at the Jazz Gallery

Budd Kopman By

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Miles Okazaki
Jazz Gallery
New York, NY
Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Jazz Gallery is a small place which offers the audience intimacy in a low key setting. Although Miles Okazaki's album Mirror has been available for a while, this gig was for its official release. The lineup is basically the same as the album, except that Morgan replaces Jon Flaugher.

The combination of three high-pitched woodwinds is a bit unusual, but Knoche played bass clarinet most of the time, providing for some distance between the voices. Occasionally, when the horns played together, their individual lines either intertwined or answered each other. Most of the time, however, the horn voices were individual, with Zenon and Binney taking most of the solos.

Okazaki's music is an extremely enticing mixture of various rhythmic styles, and the set had undertones of classical Indian music, funk, straight jazz and other idioms. The engine of the group is Dan Weiss, who has extensively trained in the art of Indian rhythm, while Okazaki serves as the conductor. The drummer and leader maintained very close eye contact throughout the set as a tune broke down into various sections, each mutating rhythmically.

Underlying the music is a rhythmical note pattern that has an odd length when compared to the standard bar line. There was always a pulse derived from the smallest rhythmic unit, while the groupings of the units, which give the rhythm its characteristic feel and name, constantly shifted. The effect was so kinetic and electrifying I could barely stay in my seat.

With such rhythmic complexity, harmonic progressions and melodic statements tend to take a back seat. Still, the music does have a tonal center, employing scales and bass lines revolving around a particular note, perhaps taking a cue from classical Indian music.

Okazaki's guitar playing is quite different, to say the least. The set started off with the guitarist showing very little in the way of chops but much in terms of knowing how to color the sound and set the vibe. Only later, once the band's sound was solidified in the audience's ears, did Okazaki let loose, showing no technical limitations in his command of the instrument.

Zenon, who looked for all the world like a Latin Buddha standing in the middle of the stage, was very exciting when he took off on his horn. Playing streams of notes that collided rhythmically with the shifting pulses of Weiss and Morgan, Zenon many times brought the music to an emphatic peak. By contrast, Binney, even when answering Zenon's power, would remain elliptical and elusive while building his solo to its own heights.

As usual, when the music is so enveloping, time flew and the set felt much too short. The foregoing descriptions do not do Okazaki's music justice, and this live version, moreover, was much different from the recorded one, as happens often when a talented leader allows good players to take the music where they may.

In sum, Okazaki has created something new, personal, exciting and accessible despite the complexities roiling beneath the surface. Marvelous.

Personnel: Miles Okazaki: guitar, compositions; Miguel Zenon: alto sax; David Binney: alto sax; Christof Knoche: bass clarinet, alto sax, soprano sax, harmonica; Thomas Morgan: bass; Dan Weiss: drums.

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