Itaru Oki Unit: Live
Japanese trumpet player Itaru Oki is one of the pioneers of the free jazz scene in Japan, but for the past thirty years he's lived in France, first in Lyon and now in Paris, where he collaborated with fellow free-minded expatriates such as bass and synthesizer player Alan Silva, bassist Kent Carter, drummer Sunny Murray, and many other European musicians, such as bass clarinetist Michel Pilz. Oki's playing references the rich musical environment in which he was raised. His father played the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute associated with Zen Buddhism, and his mother was a master of the koto, a Japanese horizontal harp. Oki is also kind of a mad scientist who likes to play on invented brass instruments, such a trumpet-French horn hybrid with two bells, or a trumpet with eight valves.
In recent years the underrated Oki has been operating his Japanese band, which has not yet garnered due recognition outside Japan. The Itaru Oki Unit consists of Oki on trumpet, flugelhorn, bamboo flutes and toys; the prolific Tokyo-based couple Satoko Fujii on piano and pianica and Natsuki Tamura on trumpet and toys; Kobe-based tenor saxophonist Keizo Nobori; and the young and fiery rhythm section of Hiroshi Funato on bass and Jin Mitsuda on drums. This outfit recorded two discs on 2002, Iroha-Uta, Vol. 1 and Iroha-Uta, Vol. 2 on the independent Kobe-based label Fudebusho, plus last year's live release from its shows at the free jazz haven of Tokyo, the Shinjuku Pit-Inn club, on Polystar, a better-distributed label that is also releases other Fujii and Tamura discs.
This live disc demonstrates Oki's rich musical imagination, and his sense of adventure and quirky humor, in the presence of very sympathetic players. His treatment of the popular Mort Dixon and Ray Henderson standard "Bye Bye Blackbird" only occasionally references the original melody. This opening track begins with bird calls, created by Oki and Tamura on flutes, then slowly evolves into the basic outline of the standard, now as a trumpet duo. Then Oki, Tamura and Fujii recklessly deconstruct the standard and it ends as Oki and Tamura improvise on the shreds of the original melody, turning it into a marching tune. "Ontakesan" is post bop tune that features Nobori as the main soloist, sounding like a young David Murray, with propulsive backing from Funato and Mitsuda.
"Haiku" features poetess Kazuko Shiraishi (who wrote the liner notes to Oki's Anthologie Lyon-Paris , Ohari, 2002), who improvises on absurd 17-syllables haiku poems, mocking noteworthy haikus and driving the Unit into occasional laughter. This track is a collage of ceremonial Japanese playing and free playing that tries to cope and follow Shiraishi's funny images. Nobori's composition "L for B," based loosely on a blues scale, was recorded by the Unit on Itora-Uta Vol. 1 , but here it gets a much-energized treatment, with all players getting their fair share of solos and swinging hard. The closing track, the Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Hausen standard "Like Someone in Love," receives a more conventional treatment from all players and features Fujii on a rare occasion as an interpreter of standards.
After experiencing this Unit performing at the Shinjuki Pit-Inn, I can testify that this live disc offers only a glimpse of Itaru Oki and his co-conspirators' exhilarating musical world, which transcends boundaries of East and West, ancient and new, or conventional and free playing.
Visit Itaru Oki , Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura , and Keizo Nobori on the web.
Tracks: Bye Bye Love; Ontakesan; Haiku; L for B; Like Someone In Love.
Personnel: Itaru Oki- trumpet, flugelhorn, bamboo flutes; Keizo Nobori- tenor saxophone; Natsuki Tamura- trumpet; Satoko Fujii- piano; Hiroshi Funato- Bass; Jin Mitsuda- drums.