Akira Sakata & Chikamorachi

Friendly Pants
Family Vineyard FV66

Nobuyasu Furuya Trio


Clean Feed CF159 CD

While this linkage of two CDs featuring Japanese-born saxophonists playing in a trio with a non-Japanese rhythm section, may appear somewhat louche, there are similarities reflected on these appealing discs of which even the two protagonists may not be aware. This is despite the reality that alto saxophonist Akira Sakata is a Nipponese Free Jazz legend, while tenor saxophonist Nobuyasu Furuya is much lesser known.

For a start each musician was initially trained in a different field: Sakata as a marine biologist and Furuya as a cook in a Zen Buddhist temple. Furuya, who lives in Lisbon, was initially attracted to baroque music, studied Turkish traditional music and played in noise, ska-core and Free Jazz groups. Today he composes for film, theatre and dance including multi-media presentations for Berlin-based Mayumi Fukzaki’s theatre company. Hiroshima-born Sakata, began playing Free Jazz 40 years ago and since then has not only worked with committed improvisers as diverse as pianist Yamashita Yosuke and bassist Bill Laswell but recorded pop-leaning records and sung Japanese folk songs. Following gigs with guitarist Jim O’Rourke, he has made three Free Jazz CDs with noise-improvisers drummer Chris Corsano and bassist Darin Gray. This is the third, plus his first North American release in two decades.

Again with a lower profile, the rhythm section which backs Furuya on Bendowa –named for the 13th century book by the founder of Soto Zen – are bassist Hernâni Faustino and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini. Instructively both sessions are anchored by the self-effacing, sometimes inaudible bass players. Solidly present at all times, Faustino and Gray are the foundation upon which the saxophonists can stretch and splinter sound principles, as well as giving the drummers freedom to decorate tunes with shuffles, rebounds and precision strokes.

Faustino is conspicuously felt but barely heard throughout all of Bendowa’s five tracks, with the most profound application of this formula on tracks “Track 3” and “Track 4”.

Over the course of both these tracks Furuya gets to play all three of his instruments. Beginning with a snorting and wavering tenor saxophone exposition, his tone becomes dissonant and wide enough to suggest tug boat horn snarls. Meanwhile Ferrandini pats and paddles his cymbals and the bassist bounces his bow sul tasto. Moving from andante to largo following an unaccompanied exposition of split tones, Furuya pitch-sliding bass clarinet runs that initially resembled wild bird calls turn strident and stressed. On “Track 4” however, his stubby, bottom-toned flute sticks to the melody line until he begins peeping and crying semi tones through the flute’s body, rather like a restrained Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Ferrandini’s polyrhythms and subtle percussion thumps plus Faustino’s scrubbing and chafing allow Furuya to return with glottal-stopped and note-swallowing tenor saxophone runs that lead to clamorous braying and a final flat line exit.

Sakata’s improvisations often also end abruptly as he evidently runs out of steam on certain tracks. But the strength of Gray and Corsano accompaniment ensure that this doesn’t sound like a falling off, but a pause to foreshadow new creativity. Having developed a distinctive tone over the years, that is part-Jackie McLean and part-Hichiriki, the saxophonist’s sound is immediately identifiable, whether he’s spiraling and swelling split tones into molten frenzy or sliding and stuttering spidery timbres in his version of a ballad.

For instance on “Yo! Yo! Dime” – all the tracks are evidently titled in distinctive Japanlish – Sakata extrudes extended reed bites that expose various thematic materials then just as abruptly cut them off before they develop further. Eventually he reaches his desired strategy – shoving so much tonal variation into his solo so that not only is every note’s root sound exposed, but also all its extensions and partials. Meantime Gray thumps unhurriedly and Corsano burns, backbeats and thwacks snares, toms and cymbals in a circular pattern. Becoming more intense with squeaking staccatissimo, Sakata’s bugle-like tattoo hardens into a discordant sonic mass then abruptly ends.

It’s the same game plan for pseudo-ballads like “That Day of Rain”. Linear and pinched, Sakata’s low-keyed trilling eventually transform into strings of pressurized notes and split-tone cries as Corsano’s casual rumbles and thumps plus sensed walking from Gray maintains the mood. It’s the saxophonist who shatters it, weighing in with glossolalia and splayed note patterns. The fortissimo climax reached is then abruptly cut off.

Obviously what can be defined as Free Jazz with a Japanese tinge still exists and thrives in that country and abroad. These CDs confirm this.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Friendly:1. Friendly Pants 1. Un 3. In Case, Let’s Go to the Galaxy 4. That Day of Rain 5. With Saigyo Path 6. Yo! Yo! Dime

Personnel: Friendly: Akira Sakata (alto saxophone) Darin Gray (bass) and Chris Corsano (drums)

Track Listing: Bendowa 1. 2. Track 2 3. Track 3 4. Track 4 5. Track 5

Personnel: Bendowa: Nobuyasu Furuya (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and flute); Hernâni Faustino (bass) and Gabriel Ferrandini (drums)