All About Jazz needs your help and we have a deal. Pay $20 and we'll hide those six pesky Google ads that appear on every page, plus this box and the slideout box on the right for a full year! You'll also fund website expansion.
Not as, might be suggested by the title, songs to put you in the holiday mood, but seven improvisations recorded by Lithuanian saxophonist Liudas Mockūnas and Japanese pianist Ryoji Hojito, while the latter was on vacation in Lithuania. The pair met during the course of Hojito's travels around the country and, without thinking too much, went into a studio for a spontaneous session which yielded the disc's first three cuts. It is supplemented by four tracks recorded a year later during a concert in the national capital, Vilnius. Such renewed commitment confirms the worth of the outcome of this serendipitous meeting of two fertile imaginations.
A co-founder of the adventurous No Business imprint, the Lithuanian also weighs in as one of the country's premier improvisors, appearing alongside an ever increasing catalogue of Baltic, Scandinavian, and US performers. Mockūnas is a virtuoso, particularly on the baritone, where he commands the upper registers in tandem with shrieking overtones and deep gut-wrenching blasts to add a visceral and emotional edge to his blowing. Guitarist/turntablist Yoshihide Otomo was a prime influence inspiring the pianist to expand his range of expression, which has since blossomed with the likes of bassist Joelle Leandre and saxophonist John Zorn. Hojito ranges between a straightforward, pretty lyricism and the type of manipulation associated with the European improv scene, using small instruments and fixtures on the piano interior, at times recalling the work of British pianist Keith Tippett.
Together the twosome proves responsive and audacious. "Sunday" finds clarinet and piano combining in folk-inflected melody. One of the highlights, "Monday," starts out similarly bright before turning first mournful, as the reedman's nasal soprano saxophone slides between pitches, then impassioned, as the Japanese's piano preparations layer a strangely percussive white noise which imparts a quality of muffled dislocation. They turn fractious by the end, with anguished squalling sax and crashing piano.
Mockūnas takes center stage on "Wednesday," his falsetto needling and keypad popping on baritone leads to an abrasive organ like effect created by his circular lines blending with the natural echo of the venue. At 16 minutes, the fast changing "Thursday" is the longest piece and another high point. Hojito's wordless vocals and assorted noise generating objects are the wildcard; his snatches of horn, melodica and squeaky toys intertwine winningly with the saxophonist's keening harmonics in a stormy yet lyrical slab of free jazz.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.