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Akira Sakata - Live At the Hungry Brain / And That’s The Story Of Jazz…

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Artist: Akira Sakata

Album: Live At the Hungry Brain / And That’s The Story Of Jazz…

Label: Family Vineyard

Review date: Oct. 27, 2011


Akira Sakata & Chikamorachi - "Friendly Pants" (Live at Hungry Brain)


From a distance, Japanese saxophonist Akira Sakata cuts an artistic profile similar to Peter Brötzmann’s. Both men are free jazz reedists who grew up in countries laid low by WWII. Both are in it for the long haul; Brötzmann was born in Germany in 1941, Sakata four years later in Japan. Both have pursued significant associations with musicians of other nationalities, and even appeared on the same record (Last Exit’s The Noise Of Trouble) with bassist and cultural miscegenator Bill Laswell. And both have done superb work late in their careers.

But if you look at either their career narratives or their playing, differences emerge, differences emerge. Sakata’s been more willing to present himself in compromised settings, such as the sketchy one-world funk of Fisherman’s.com, his 2001 album with Laswell and percussionist Hamid Drake. And Sakata can sing, too, an expressive mode he uses to engage with elements of his nation’s cultural heritage. Brötzmann sticks to horns and only deals with folkloric elements when one of his sidemen (I’m looking at you, Drake) brings them.

In the mid-aughts, Sakata gravitated to American eclectic Jim O’Rourke, who has played with, recorded and produced several of Sakata’s albums with the rhythm section Chikamorachi, a.k.a. drummer Chris Corsano and double bassist Darin Gray. The trio focuses on high-intensity jazz, and its essential nowness makes comparisons to free jazz of other eras feel quite beside the point. Not that it’s all year-zero stuff — when Sakata starts singing, you can hear echoes of Japan’s spirit prior to the Black Ships.


AKIRA SAKATA & JIM O’ROURKE WITH CHIKAMORACHI – “Kyoto” (excerpt)

And That’s The Story Of Jazz… consists of highlights culled from a tour across Japan in 2008. Sakata starts out with rippling runs over a boiling backdrop of drums and bowed bass; O’Rourke’s a more subliminal presence, contributing low tones that you sense more than hear. This introduction showcases Sakata’s similarities and differences with Brötzmann. He brings just as much energy, and issues a similar demand that his sidemen either match it or simply get bowled over. But his playing is much more detailed, with intricate short phrases that the German wouldn’t use to punctuate the longer, hair-raising cries.

After a brief bass-drums duo that works more in surging waves than beats or notes, O’Rourke steps up and shreds like I haven’t heard him shred in ages. His wah-wah-coated squalls and fret board-length slurs carom through the rhythm section’s churn like a hungry shark eating his way through a fish-farm corral. If you’ve been worried ever since that video of O’Rourke singing soft Japanese pop made the YouTube rounds, here’s some reassurance that the guy still has it.

When O’Rourke is on board, the bass and drum contributions frame and drive the music in relatively conventional fashion. But without him, the trio feels more egalitarian; the music is just as deep, but its dynamic isn’t so much foreground/background as it is a three-dimensional image of a rapidly evolving storm system.

I was at the Hungry Brain when this set was recorded, and I’m happy to report that the recording captures the hair-straightening intensity and lyric beauty that went down that night. You can’t say the same about most live albums these days.

By Bill Meyer

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