Since its inception in the 1960s, Chicago’s influential AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) has been dedicated to the expansion of our musical language. The founders and participants have included Muhal Richard Abrams, Lester Bowie, Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, and Jack DeJohnette. Their influence has been felt beyond Chicago in the travels and inventions of The Art Ensemble Of Chicago. In the last decade we have seen the resurgence of Fred Anderson and the AACM-inspired work of Chicago-based musicians Ken Vandermark and Ernest Dawkins.
Bassist Tatsu Aoki, born in Japan, has made Chicago his home for quite some time now. His influence on the local scene supplies both knowledge of Asian culture and a strong pulse of creative jazz, having played with Fred Anderson, Malachi Favors, and Mwata Bowden. He leads the Asian-American Festival and plays everything from blues to big band Asian jazz. His ability to work in differing forms produces music straight out of the AACM mission statement.
Trio is an amalgam of many things, all of which are firmly anchored by the weight of Aoki’s bass. He brings together AACM and Art Ensemble of Chicago multi-reedist Joseph Jarman with symphony oboist Robbie Lynn Hunsinger. Jarman’s semi-retirement from the AEC in 1993 to be ordained a Buddhist monk ,and Hunsinger’s ranging interests in Eastern music, free jazz, and creative music make for logical collaboration.
The Trio makes both contemporary chamber music and free jazz statements without breaking from their deeply contemplative form. The disc weaves themes from each player’s background, but never wades too deeply in one genre at the expense of the music. The meditative qualities are front and center throughout. The opener, like the two-alto saxophone “Powerhouse,” relies on Aoki's pulse, with the players adding hushed-breath, almost spoken lines around it. Jarman’s thumb piano drives “Larsen B” with Aoki palpating taut strings around Hunsinger’s swirling clarinet.
Aoki’s bass conjures Jimmy Garrison on “Cape Of Needles,” which harkens back to Coltrane’s “India” as Hunsinger’s English horn plays through an Eastern theme. The disc stays within its reflective framework, opting for a bit of disturbance with Aoki bowing “Hornswoggled” and Hunsinger playing Evan Parker-like passages on a Chinese oboe. Aoki switches to a repetitive stuttered machine-sound bass line on “eye to eye” while his oboe and bass clarinet partners pick through the acoustic post-modern landscape.
In its simplicity, this advancement of all things AACM is a studiously powerful recording.