Katsuyuki Itakura/Blaise Siwula/Ryusaku Ikezawa

Big Hearts
Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1189

Yet another questing saxophonist operating beneath mainstream radar, Detroit native Blaise Siwula, 56, has lived in New York since 1989, involved in a variety of ad-hoc Free Jazz situations, most recently as one of the organizers of the regular C.O.M.A. improv series at a local club.

An illuminating sample of his fish-out-of-water extended techniques, Big Hearts is a souvenir of his first-ever tour of Japan. Siwula, who in the past has recorded with guitarist Dom Minasi and bassists Adam Lane and Ken Filiano among others, got to Japan following several C.O.M.A. encounters with veteran Japanese pianist Katsuyuki Itakura, 66. Someone who over the years has played with other American experimenters such as guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil and saxophonist Keshavan Maslak, Itakura – who has been playing professionally since 1962 – shows here that he knows exactly what he wants from his improv partners.

He demonstrates this game plan on these 12 tracks, recorded in Tokyo and his home town of Ashikaga. The strategies encompass saxophone and piano solos, a large number of duos and a few tracks where Itakura’s homie, drummer Ryusaku Ikezawa, augments the duo. See-saw contrapuntal interaction is the most common point of intersection throughout.

Itakura and Siwula interact at a furious pace throughout, often ping-ponging from screaming Energy Music to languid interludes during the course of one track. Still, note that it’s almost always the pianist who alters his playing from corrosive dynamics and staccatissimo octave runs to note clusters that suggest children’s songs, Bebop comping or 19th Century European tropes. This is in contrast with the saxophonist’s timbres which range from harsh, kazoo-like note stuttering with a good supply of emphasized split tones, to shards of unconnected honks, pops and elongated multiphonics.

Itakura’s impulses also pivot a couple of tracks around definitely pre-Free, almost pre-modern impulses. Solo, “At Mid Night” uses rolling cadenzas and semi-classical climaxes that sluice from basement tremolos to attic arpeggios as he reworks Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” into a contrafact with rougher edges.

Alternately, with Siwula vibrating darkly-tone clarinet lines and Ikezawa slapping and bouncing his kit, the three come across as an updated Benny Goodman trio. The drummer, taking the Gene Krupa role, emphasizes blunt ruffs and reverberating cymbals; although as a faux Goodman, Siwula still retains unorthodox clarinet slides. Itakura’s protruding single notes and simple, dancing patterning may not exactly be in the school of Teddy Wilson, they also seem far removed from Cecil Taylor’s contrasting dynamics as well here.

Equally adept at double-gaited, lightly vibrated ballads and the fractured dynamics implicit in creating torrents of New Thing-like flashes, the Siwula-Itakura partnership literally sounds like a success. The CD they’ve created jointly stands on its own as well. This is high-quality, comprehensive improv, not some trip keepsakes that must be examined in context to be fully appreciated.

— Ken Waxman

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Track Listing: 1. Katana (Swords) 2. Guardian Dogs (Memory of Candy) 3. Botanical Dreams 4. Playground Tango 5. At Mid Night 6. Big Hearts 7. Storm Dance 8. Mountain River 9. You (still) Don’t Know What Love Is 10. Rose Garden at Deserted House 11. Space Time Continuum 12. Adventure in Knuttel Land

Personnel: Blaise Siwula (alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet); Katsuyuki Itakura (piano) and Ryusaku Ikezawa (drums)