Akira Sakata/Giovanni Di Domenico/John Edwards/Steve Noble

Live At Cafe Oto
Clamshell Records CR26

Experiencing the supersonically paced and rugged improvisations of Japanese reedist Akira Sakata is not unlike taking one of his country’s bullet trains as it makes it way from Tokyo to a far destination at about 320 kilometres an hour. Despite the speed, Hiroshima-born Sakata, like the bullet train knows exactly where he’s going and is in perfect control. As one of the pioneer Nipponese Free Jazzers, he has played with everyone from fellow saxist Peter Brötzmann to pianist Yamashita Yosuke during his four-decade career and knows how to keep sessions moving and exciting.

Consisting of heady, nearly non-stop thrills this live date is particularly memorable since it links the veteran alto saxophonist and clarinetist with a British rhythm section –

Bassist John Edwards and drummer Steve Noble – singly or together – have worked with many of Free Music’s more inventive saxophonists, including Lol Coxhill Evan Parker, John Butcher and Brötzmann. Another important element is the go-for-broke keyboard dynamics contributed by Brussels-based, Italian-born, Third World influenced pianist Giovanni Di Domenico. He and Sakata also recorded a top-flight duo CD (Iruman), a couple of years before this 2014 date but this live session amplifies the impression by providing an excellent view of the two on a group context. From the first note Sakata is incendiary, turning out high-throttle altissimo screeches. Not to be outdone, the pianist operates with intense kineticism, popping and vibrating tones and chords all over his instrument. Add to this the bassist’s distorted spiccato thumps and Noble’s heavyweight ruffs and cymbal resolution and the bullet train appears to have transformed into an unstoppable force of nature – or an even faster rocket ship, if you prefer.

In fact as the improvisation expands to its nearly 40-minute length, the few intermezzos are supplied by the reed man himself. With sequences during which he verbally growls out phrases that could be pidgin-Japanese or mere nonsense syllables, he adds a variant of mystic tone bending to the proceedings, especially when his guttural tones resemble those of a Far Eastern shaman. At the same time his clenched throat yelps verbally spur on the others. For more sound color he also adds bell and shaker rhythms to the background, and Di Domenico for one responds by using artillery shot-like keyboard pacing to dynamically accelerate the sonic tension.

With equivalent drama resulting from Edwards’ sharp staccato lines and Noble’s cymbal crashing, it’s the veteran’s final solo that swerves to bring out sweet-sound, moderato clarinet tones. Altering the journey, his moderated timbres also slow down by example the agitated piano intensity and the others’ responses. Sakata projects double-tongued calm and tranquility, evidentially squeezing every atom of emotion from his horn until the conclusion.

If inspiring performances were preserved in museums the way notated music scores are catalogued, this would be one to keep. As it is, anyone can enjoy this artistic meeting from committed players from three countries any time, just by playing the disc.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. (39:58)

Personnel: Akira Sakata (alto saxophone, clarinet, voice, bells and shakers); Giovanni Di Domenico (piano); John Edwards (bass) and Steve Noble (drums)