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Miles Okazaki: Mirror

Mark F. Turner By

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Mirror is the culmination of five years of work, and the results are simply outstanding. A finalist in the 2005 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Guitar Competition, Miles Okazaki is an active musician in New York who is involved in a variety of projects, including his regular recording and touring gigs with jazz vocalist Jane Monheit.

Though he's been busy on other fronts, he's also stayed focused on his own ideas as a musician and composer. Okazaki states "I'm keeping one foot in the straight-ahead world, touring with Jane Monheit and various other things, but I think you'll find this to be something different. And indeed Mirror is.

This three-part suite of fifteen rhythmic explorations reflects Okazaki's diverse interests, including studies of North and South Indian music and global influences such as Brazilian, African, and Middle Eastern music. His primary influences for these compositions are classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach and the great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. Okazaki's score is executed flawlessly, yet it allows creative liberties by providing an open conduit between structure and improvisation.

This is not your typical jazz guitar recording with a "listen to my chops persona, but make no mistake about it: Okazaki's performance and writing are at the center of every piece—with vivid rhythm and chord work, intense solos, harmonic string colorizations, in a variety of moods both intense and tender. Though each piece is individually satisfying, the overall concept is better appreciated upon listening to the recording in its entirety, as the connected members form an elaborate and cohesive matrix.

Another key to the equation is the support from a stellar cast of progressive musicians, including several notables: saxophonists Miguel Zenon, Dave Binney, Chris Potter; and drummer Dan Weiss. The band is rounded out by solid work from bassist Jon Flaugher and multi-reed player Christof Knoche, whose playing adds shades of texture.

The journey begins with a multilingual count-off on "Theme I introducing guitar, drums, and bass clarinets. Okazaki's rhythm work elevates "Mirror I, which features twisting horns vamps and a wonderful alto sax solo by Zenon. "Howl contains a funky backbone with a nice riff, heated drumming and an outlandish guitar solo.

A few of the many highlights include Dan Weiss' Indian tabla solo on "Invention, the swinging and layered solo sections on "Momentum, and the complex (49-beat rhythmic cycle) groove of "Canon, featuring frame drums and scorching sax solos by Binney and Knoche. "Halfway, one of the more moving pieces, explores an emotive theme with bass guitar and bass clarinet solos. Chris Potter also guests on "Improvisation, trading free solos with Okazaki, along with programmed drum samples which echo their inventions.

From the tension-building and explosive "Volcano, where Okazaki's guitar rocks amidst a magma flow of horns and drums, to the peaceful "Chorale, Mirror is a dynamic work of ingenuity. This intelligent, unique recording is one of this year's best releases.

Track Listing: Theme I; Spiral; Mirror I; Howl; Invention; Theme II; Metamorphosis; Halfway; Momentum; Canon; Theme III; Improvisation; Volcano; Mirror II; Chorale.

Personnel: Miles Okazaki: guitars (1-15), percussion (2,10), computer (12,13); Dan Weiss: drums (1-15), tabla (5), percussion (10) drum samples (12); Christof Knoche: soprano (2-5,7,8, 13,14), alto sax (5,9,10,15), bass clarinet (1,5,6,8,11,13), harmonica (5); David Binney: alto saxophone (4-6,8,10,13-15); Miguel Zenon: alto saxophone(3,7,9); Chris Potter: tenor saxophone (12).

Title: Mirror | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Self Produced

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