Miles Okazaki’s compositions sound like he’s creating an elaborate portrait from mosaic, octagon-shaped tiles. His style of play is dense, weaving around in his phrases with so many loops and curlicues, it’s dizzying. There’s a lot going on under the surface, and even the surface is still pretty busy. That his work isn’t too top heavy, most particularly his latest album– Trickster, out Friday on Pi Recordings, is quite notable. However, that such complex work can express a simple groove so compellingly, is the even larger accomplishment.
Miles Okazaki hasn’t released an album in five years, and his 2012 release, Figurations, was a live album at that. The songs on that release unspooled at length, taking trips that could only more accurately be referred to as excursions. It got kinda heady. As much as I have fallen for Okazaki’s latest album, Trickster, I can’t help be compare this tighter album to his previous foray and appreciate the conciseness more. Devoid of this context, Trickster is a sleek version of what could have at many times been a difficult art piece. The angularity of these songs — the runs latent of “Mischief” and Okazaki’s ability to even sprint circles around them; the huff and puff of the spiral staircase that is “Box in a Box”, a composition that sounds like all the work of climbing a skyscraper with the same motivating factor and sense of accomplishment achieved of reaching the top; the superhard groove of “The West” with Sean Rickman drumming so deep he could dig to China — is inescapable, which normally makes a sound like this not for everyone, yet how this band maintains an energy that practically hypnotizes, a see-saw groove that makes things difficult to turn off, makes Trickster so unfailingly compelling.
Throughout Trickster is an energy that never subsides through the prime efforts of this quartet. Craig Taborn on piano and Okazaki are a perfect pair, unfolding together. Yet it’s Okazaki’s bounce off bassist Anthony Tidd and Sean Rickman — the three of them have played for years in Steve Coleman and the Five Elements, that group certainly no slouch in the “heavy groove smothered in math” corner of the jazz world — that makes this whole thing work. For music that could be considered over-complicated, it just isn’t so here. One could try to point to anyone in this group as an anchor but each member of this grounded enough on his own to meld their own individual senses of balance together to make music that is truly remarkable.
Each of these songs has some sense of escalation and tension, making this music just so riveting as it is inviting. It’s hard to really explain what makes Miles Okazaki’s Trickster just so infectious– maybe it’s the groove, maybe it’s the more organic realization of such complicated style of play that Okazaki has always evoked, like the aural equivalent of the elegance of fractal patterns. Perhaps it’s in how such a guitarist can turn music like this on its ear is Okazaki being an even bigger trickster than the legendary Anansi the Spider. Perhaps that was the whole point.
Trickster, the latest album from guitarist Miles Okazaki, is out March 24th on Pi Recordings.
Miles Okazaki – Guitar
Craig Taborn – Piano
Anthony Tidd – Bass
Sean Rickman – Drums
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.