Katsuyuki Itakura/Blaise Siwula/Richard Gilman-Opalsky

New York Encuentro
No Frills Music NFM 002

By Ken Waxman

Named for the idea-exchanging “encounters”, Mexican Zapatista guerillas organized following the 1994 Chiapas uprising, the only concepts exposed on this outing are purely musical. Yet the unfettered tonal expressions demonstrated by this trio of veteran improvisers are as radical in their way as the Zapatistas’ libertarian socialist ideas are in theirs.

That’s radical not confrontational. For no matter how atonal New York Encuentro’s eight tracks appear, they never fail to communicate. Upfront are the key clipping and sly, note-patterning of Japanese pianist Katsuyuki Itakura; plus the reed prestidigitation of saxophonist Blaise Siwula, who directs the weekly C.O.M.A. improv series at ABC No-Rio. Keeping the rhythm linear is drummer Richard Gilman-Opalsky, who also posses degrees in political philosophy.

Considering his few brief solos are mostly involved with cymbal clanking and press roll reverberating, it’s obvious that Gilman-Opalsky’s musical philosophy adheres to the Zapatistas’ low-key evolution. In their playing, the other musicians are as similarly sympathetic, as the Mexican movement’s rural base is to wealth-distribution ideas. But like those who participated in the 1994 rebellion, the musicians do things vociferously enough to get their ideas across.

Especially animated is Siwula, who on a piece such as “Toy Box”, opens the container to reveal staccato tongue slaps, balanced reed bites and overblowing into every corner of the package. At the same time he isn’t averse to ending a series of irregularly accented stutters with a joking quote from “Heart and Soul”. While the pianist is capable of kinetic jumps, his playing is economical, with single key shading like early Cecil Taylor or mature Thelonious Monk. The sprightly “Great Incept” could be an updated Monk tune, with Itakura plinking broken-octave lines, shaded with stride echoes, and Siwula on tenor saxophonist harmonizing in ballad tempo like Charlie Rouse.

Although the trio’s intensity is often expressed in reed triple-tonguing and splayed, keyboard leaps; in 2011 this progressive encounter should be no more revolutionary then the Zapatista’s ideas about non-violent equality. Plus the CD is a more palatable listen than political speeches of any stripe.

Tracks: Water Drops; Mountain Temple; In Your Eyes; Great Incept; Toy Box; New York Encuentro; Intergalactica (For Humanity); Red trout

Personnel: Blaise Siwula: alto and tenor saxophones; Katsuyuki Itakura: piano; Richard Gilman-Opalsky: drums, percussion, whistle

—For New York City Jazz Record September 2011