Review by Brad Walseth
I once worked with a keyboard player who became dismayed when I brought up the subject of alternative rhythms like 5/4, 7/8, 9/8, etc. He stated that music belonged in 4/4 time because, "It has something to do with the human heart." That kind of logic would find little support in Indian, African and Middle Eastern worlds (among others), where the division of time is considerably less mundanely static, and I sincerely doubt guitarist Miles Okazaki would prescribe to that belief based on his intriguing new release, "Mirror."
Evoking the geniuses Coltrane ("Improvisation" is based on "Countdown") and Bach ("Canon" uses Bach's Crab Canon technique of playing the melody backwards on top of itself), Okazaki has produced a recording striking for its exploration of the various ways musicians can partition the time element. An extremely complex presentation of three suites of five compositions apiece (five years in the making), on "Mirror" Okazaki could have let his mathematical bent take him into cold and unlistenable realms ("Invention" for example is based on the "Fibonacci series" - the golden ratios found in nature), but the music here is shockingly vital and very gratifying.
Part of the success here belongs to the stellar cast of musicians Okazki has assembled to help him create his sound. Drummer Dan Weiss' studies in Indian music make him exceeding tuned in to Okazaki's rhythmic invention. Bassist Jon Flaugher also has worked with Okazaki is familiar with the intricacies of the guitarist's unique compositional styles. Christof Knoche's bass clarinet especially adds some delicious dark flavor, while he also shines on soprano and alto sax and harmonica.
Heavy hitters like Miguel Zenon on alto sax and Chris Potter also appear and add fiery lead lines to this highly-charged atmosphere, while the remarkable David Binney is also present on several cuts, adding his distinctive, burning alto sax. In fact it is Binney's work with shifting time structures that Okazaki's work, although quite distinctive, somewhat resembles. Both artists are at the forefront of the merger between world music elements and jazz, and the fusion here is not only successful, but points the way into possible future paths.
The songs on this album are multi-layered, with fresh discoveries upon each repeated listening. Listeners are advised to check out Okazaki's well-written compositional notes at his website for in-depth explanations of the song structures. Aside from the knotty compositions (Okazaki's fascination with mirrors and labyrinths is apparent), some highlights include, "Mirror I"'s South American-influenced driving rhythm guitar and searching Zenon solo, Okazai's fusion solo on "Volcano." and his wah-wah solo on "Howl" that evokes Pete Cosey's groundbreaking work on Miles Davis' "Pangaea," Binney's shredding solos on "Howl," "Canon," and "Mirror II" Weiss' powerful work on "Volcano," Potter, Knoche & Zenon of course, and even Okazaki's computer additions are compelling and prove there may be some life in the machinery after all.
Somewhat surprisingly, Okazaki may be best known as the guitarist for cabaret singer Jane Monheit. On his first recording as leader, he certainly breaks the mould and with a vengeance. Let's hope the next recording doesn't take another five years, but if it does, it will certainly be worth the wait. Perhaps not for the more faint-hearted, but for the rest of us, Okazaki's "Mirror" is a "Through the Looking Glass" of musical adventure.