Akira Sakata / Giovanni Di Domenico

July 1, 2014


Mbari Music mbari 21

Expressively dexterous and modest improvisations, which despite a minimalist presentation skirt the quietude of so-called Chamber Jazz, these reed-piano duos show how much can be invested and extracted from this simple format.

Chief points of demarcation here are radically different. On Iruman, veteran Japanese reedist Akira Sakata gradually toughen the interaction between his playing and that of Italian-born, Brussels-resident pianist Giovanni Di Domenico so that by the climatic final piece they’re engaged in rapid-fire near-atonality. Equally edifying is a disc-meeting between two long-time stalwarts of New York’s advanced music scene. Like the other CD a first-time recording, despite being from so-called different Jazz circles, alto saxophonist Jameel Moondoc and pianist Connie Crothers have actually played together for years. What’s noteworthy about Two though, is that despite the musicians’ membership in the so-called avant garde, the improvisations are rife with near references to standards – Jazz and otherwise.

With a background that includes memories of Third World melodies as well as education in Jazz and European classical music, it takes a little while for Di Domenico’s moderato tinkling and low-frequency runs to toughen here. Meantime Sakata, who has been a major force in Japanese Free Music since the late 1960s and recently has worked with everyone from drummer Chris Corsano to bassist Bill Laswell, moves among harsh alto saxophone bites, contralto clarinet smears, implement shaking and an Orientialized variant of throat-singing. This vocalizing and bell-shaking, which mixes vocalese with off-key groaning and crying is featured most on “Papiruma/Papiruma”; while Di Domenico’s sparkling glissandi make a perfect foil for Sakata’s surprisingly mellow sax lines on “Sukiyazukuri No Tatazumai/The Peaceful Atmosphere of a Wood Sukiya-style Temple”. Having gained in assurance as well, it seems, Di Domenico exposes galloping key clanks that effectively counter Sakata’s split tones and sound shards by the time “Moe I/Bud I” comes around.

Nonetheless, the preceding nine tracks are merely preludes to the quarter-hour plus “Moe II/Bud II” that moves through several exhilarating sequences where the keyboardist’s pile-driver flair is easily the match for the saxman’s violent split-tone attack. Turning to keyboard pressure as a proper response to Sakata’s wriggling and honking vibrations, a crescendo of circular patterning by Di Domenico is attained then subsides along with Sakata’s response. A distinctive coda involving the pianist’s well-calculated sweeps subtly complements the reedist’s conclusive peeps which are high-pitched, yet manage not to disrupt the narrative.

Two’s performance takes place on a looser and more emotional level, as to be expected judging from the long time Moondoc-Crothers interaction. Ironically the majority of tracks are titled as numbered improvisations, but despite this prosaic convention, many, as well as the more expected “You Let Me into Your Life”, are sprinkled with allusions to half-remembered standards. Never does the pianist or the saxophonist quote anything directly – although what sounds suspiciously like the theme from “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” appears during one sax solo – but the sensibility is there. While a certified Free Jazzer, Moondoc is still able to create reed vibrations that are both inviting and lulling; like the classic pre-modern saxophone soloists. And Crothers has an affiliation with the Tristano School, which invariably built originals from the structures of popular songs.

At the same time any overtly romantic allusions are saved from becoming billowing trance music by the two’s bloody mindedness. On “Improvisation 4” for example, the diamond hard tone of Moondoc’s reed play encourages Crothers to strengthen her initial delicate touch. The piece ends as the two continues to pass dedicated sound motifs from one to the other. On “Improvisation 2”, an extended tremolo reed line is echoed perfectly from the keys as tempered steeliness seeps through Crothers’ deadpan lyricism. As elongated reed textures snake forward, Crothers’ connective chording keep the improvisation focused but not earth-bound.

Summing up the program is “Improvisation 6”, which eventually affiliates harsh timbres from both players into a spirited narrative. When Moondoc’s already thin split tones threaten to vanish into abstraction, Crothers rallies the duet with staccato cadenzas that are tight enough to confirm her understated keyboard power, but loose enough to allow free playing on both sides that is refreshing and memorable.

Just because only two instruments are involved doesn’t means that an entire sound picture can’t be on show. Both these duos prove that supposition.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Iruman: 1. Seijaku No Ichimai/A Piece of Silence 2. Kousa No Odori/Yellow Sand Blowing from China 3. Suiren No Saku Huruike/Lotus Blossom in an Old Pond 4. Yamadera Ni Kikoyuru Koe/Voice from a Temple in the Deep Mountain 5. Moe I/Bud I 6. Tanbo Ni Mizu Ga Hairu/Water Coming Into Rice Field in the Spring 7. Sukiyazukuri No Tatazumai/The Peaceful Atmosphere of a Wood Sukiya-style Temple 8. Hachi To Ohisama/The Bee and the Sunshine 9. Papiruma/Papiruma 10. Moe II/Bud II.

Personnel: Iruman: Akira Sakata (alto saxophone, clarinet, voice, bells and shakers) and Giovanni Di Domenico (piano)

Track Listing: Two: 1. Improvisation 1 2. You Let Me into Your Life 3. Improvisation 2 4. Deep Friendship 5. Improvisation 3 6. Improvisation 4 7. Improvisation 5 8. Improvisation 6

Personnel: Two: Jameel Moondoc (alto saxophone) and Connie Crothers (piano)