Miles Okazaki: Cleaning the Mirror
Jones ended up acting as a major influence on Okazaki from a technical standpoint. "He saw that a lot to work on," Okazaki continues. "I had some good facility on the guitar at that time, but my technique was pretty poor in terms of knowing the history of the instrument. I had just tried to pick up stuff from other instruments. I had to reinvent my technique, which took about two years of sounding really bad, where I had to change my whole posture, position, everything. Rodney taught me things about groove and rhythm and how it related to time feel. Not as much focus was on harmony."
Not only was he a strong guitar teacher, but Jones was also a major component in Okazaki getting gigs and understanding the music business. "Rodney was really connected in doing music production," he says. "He was the music director for [singer] Lena Horne and he was kind of a guitarist/producer role in a lot of situations. I was also doing assistant work at the time, doing music copying by hand, things like orchestral projects for musicians. I was doing it without a computer, just using a calligraphy pen. I did stuff with him for Lena, Ruth Brown and a lot of projects he was involved in. He recommended me for some gigs on guitar. One of those was for [saxophonist] Stanley Turrentine, which I had done right at the end of Stanley's life. We did one tour and some stuff at Birdland [in New York City], so I was sad it was so short, but it was formative thing, playing on a professional level with older musicians."
One ensemble at Manhattan School of Music ended up becoming the personnel for Mirror, comprised of Weiss, Zenón, bassist Jon Flaugher, reedist Christof Knoche and a guest spot by [saxophonist] Chris Potter."We just played some gigs and then I started writing music for that group," the guitarist explains. "We did a lot of gigs in New York City. I met [alto saxophonist David] Binney through Dan Weiss and I met Chris Potter (who's only on one track; we did a whole session but I ended up not using it) at the Thelonious Monk Competition. I had met him at other occasions, but we had played together at the competition and I asked him if he was interested in doing a record."
The compositions on Mirror are indicative of Okazaki's interest in music from the south of India, inspired in part by Weiss' studies with tabla master Samir Chatterjee. "I'm not a percussionist; I just liked the sound of it," says Okazaki. "I did get a little drum called a kanjira that I figured I could get happening because it has similar physical characteristics to a guitar. The right hand is doing a rotating motion, the left hand doing a sort of squeezing motion. I got a teacher named Ganesh Kumar and I've studied with him on and off for about 10 years, but I didn't get very deep into it in terms of performing classical repertoire, as it's not it's not my primary musical culture; it's something I was trying to get some structures and rhythmic ideas from, but I'm not that interested in fusion of instruments."
Okazaki was also inspired in part by Carnatic and Hindustani music. These studies exposed him to shapes as musical forms and rhythm as a complex system. "I hadn't found something that ordered and systematic as far as rhythm goes," he explains. "It had very precise, calculated types of things, which I hadn't seen before, basically forms for improvisation. You could have time taking a different shape, like square or rectangular. That idea of a directionality of linear time, the same way you might hear a melody that you think is going to resolve a certain way, the rhythm can do that, too. At the same time, I was also very interested in contrapuntal rhythms and layers. There's one track on the record called 'Canon' and also 'Momentum' where there are several different cycles that line up a certain way. I wasn't aware at the time of what Steve Coleman was doing; I was just figuring out this contrapuntal thing I could explore. I was definitely making an effort to make it not sound like any kind of Indian music or overly derivative."
The record also manages to include musical extrapolations of various mathematical principles, like the aforementioned Fibonacci sequence, fleshed out on the record as various patterns. "The expanding and contracting thing on 'Howl,' that's one of those patterns," Okazaki explains. "It's all boxes and you just take the stuff out of the middle and put it on the ends and then it's a shape like a wave. It's 8-7-6-5-4-5-6-7, so instead of having it be a bunch of 6's, you just take two or one from the middle and redistribute it and then it makes a different shape. I'm attracted to the idea of illusions, where you might hear one thing a few different ways. That gives people something unexpected."