Visual artists and musicians often use similar techniques to create their art. No one illustrates that confluence better than the Seattle-born, Brooklyn-based guitarist Miles Okazaki, who, in a few years, has burst on the scene with a musical approach that is rooted and revolutionary in its sophistication and simplicity, both of which are on full display on his amazing Sunnyside debut, Generations. Joining Okazaki on this impressive label debut are alto saxophonists Miguel Zenón, David Binney, and Christof Knoche; vocalist Jen Shyu, drummer Dan Weiss, and bassist Jon Flaugher, a group of musicians that has been working together for over ten years. Written, produced and illustrated by Okazaki, whose simmering guitar sound is a unique blend of traditional, unprocessed tone and futuristic musical vocabulary, the nine tracks weave and breathe with a melodic, rhythmic and harmonic character much in the way an artist paints with a brushstroke.
This recording was made in a single continuous take, in order to present the material as it might be heard in a live setting. As a result, there are no breaks between tracks, Okazaki writes in the CD liner notes.
The goal of this unusual approach to recording is to capture the energy and authenticity of live performance, while maintaining the high sonic quality of the studio. The result is a syncretic and sophisticated wall of swinging sound, laced with the triple-threat saxophonics of Zenon, Binney and Knoche; Shyu s Icarusian vocals, Flaugher s anchor-sure basslines, Weiss lickety-split drumming, and Okazaki s point-of-departure textured expressions: from the complex, swing-at-speed-of sound pace of Sun, Generations and the anthemic Moon, to the funereal Latinesque tinges of Fractal, and Waves; the cosmic jam vibe of Ghosts, and Weiss volcanic drumming on Break. Okazaki constructs a sound-world that breathes instead of dictates, allowing the musicians to paint their own sonic stories on his compositional canvas.
Electric guitarist Miles Okazaki is the leader on this recording, but that role is primarily as a composer of this music. It was done in one take as a continuous piece like it would be performed in concert, with no breaks. Okazaki's spare sound takes charge only in select instances, leaving the bulk of the work to any of three alto saxophonists and vocalist Jen Shyu, who concentrates on cryptic wordless vocals. Through generations of progressive jazz styles and the performers present, Okazaki moves through many written phases and improvised sections of music that firmly approach film noir and contemporary styles separated by natural or ethnic elements densely packed into one lengthy package. Even challenged listeners will be hard pressed to listen all the way through, because the music goes through so many emotional changes and phases in Zen fashion. Still, there's worthy and brilliant music devised, as more outstanding individual tracks can be enjoyed on their own merits. The three saxophonists David Binney, Christof Knoche, and Miguel Zenón all play alto in a similar tone and timbre requiring their sounds command close listening, or a referral to the liner notes to find out who's who. Okazaki's music flows but not in a straight line, more crooked and unpredictable, with craggy ridges and waterfalls that tumble sideways. "Overture" sets this crazy pace in continually mixed meters as Shyu and drummer Dan Weiss adapt this music via East Indian ragas and sped up pacings. "Sun" is saxed up, brittle and fractured, conjuring high drama. A slight tango on the lengthy "Waves" features all three horns soloing, a rhythmically staggered idea on the title cut has Zenón up front during a mutated 6/8 beat, and Binney's best work comes at the end for "Moon," a power train song identified by the unique saxophonist's furious flailing. Knoche is the lesser known commodity, coalescing with bassist Jon Flaugher on the darker, creepy "Ghosts," and you hear Okazaki's voice clearly on the after-hours midnight blue hued "Magic," which is more hymnal and ethnic than amazing. The three horns finally play together during "Fractal" as Shyu's singing lights the fuse. There are times, as on this track, where her voice is buried in an uneven mix, but it is generally not an issue. This is demanding music, no matter your preferences, and it is best heard in concert. Nonetheless, fine music is made, even if it is not for impatient listeners with short attention spans.
- Michael G. Nastos --AllMusic.com