Reedman Yuma Uesaka
enlists storied pianist Marilyn Crispell
to realize a splendid program of his charts on Streams
. Uesaka, who was born in London and spent his early childhood in Japan, before growing up in Michigan, is making a name for himself as part of a rising generation of New York-based improvisers. While not his leadership debut, (he issued an EP on graduating in 2015), this represents a serious statement of intent.
He can be heard in saxophonist Anna Webber
's Large Ensemble and alongside her on drummer Colin Hinton
's excellent Simulacra
(Panoramic, 2019). A major presence on the avant scene since the late 1970s, Crispell needs no introduction, and it is a pleasure to hear her collaborating so whole-heartedly with someone at the opposite end of their career.
Uesaka's writing provides attractive frameworks within which the pair can interact. Whether or not inspired by Rushi Vyas' poems of the same names reprinted on the sleeve, the pieces vary from darkly mysterious on "Meditations" to a dashing flourish on "Torrent." Uesaka invokes the Japanese notion of ma (space) as the title for the elegiac final cut, but it is a trait which also manifests frequently elsewhere.
A case in point is the title track which is one of the highlights of the album, where Uesaka's pure-toned clarinet combines with Crispell's skeletal accompaniment to create a delicate pastoral. As they move into more open terrain, Crispell waxes positively hymnal, while Uesaka, now on alto saxophone, plays a sorrowful dirge. They slowly loose their moorings, drifting into a raggedy volatile exchange, until subsiding into a slightly more unsettled mirror of the opening.
Even on the most animated numbers, Crispell balances control and expression, to keep within the parameters of the composition. "Iterations I" begins with a bright alto and piano accord which recalls her tenure with Anthony Braxton
, becoming staccato and percussive, before switching tack to a processional coda of stately piano and a subdued unison. The spiky piano and tenor saxophone squawk of "Torrent" presages a suitably irresistible surge. But in an indication of Uesaka's quirky ambition, and more reminders of Braxton, the work also includes a concluding passage for Crispell's treble-pecking, contrasting with Uesaka's elegant burbling on what sounds like a contrabass clarinet. All that in under four minutes.
Uesaka shows that he has arrived with a mature conception, and the tools to execute it, all promising more to savour in the future.
Meditations; Iterations I; Streams; Capillarity; Torrent; Ma/Space.
Yuma Uesaka: saxophones, clarinets, compositions.