The process and the tools involved in the creation of music have long fascinated theorists and sociologists. The differences between the analytical and natural elements of musical composition and performance over the myriad of cultures have intrigued many, including guitarist/composer/conceptualist Miles Okazaki. His new recording Figurations presents his third and final installment of a compositional cycle that is meant to mirror the method by which improvising musicians approach their music from conception to performance.
Along with Okazaki’s previous releases Mirror (Self Released, 2006) and Generations (Sunnyside, 2009), Figurations represents the final stage of the musical acts of creation from conception/theory to practice to spontaneity in live performance. As Okazaki writes in the liner notes, “This can be seen to represent a gradual acceptance of the balance between control and natural forces.” Mirror represents the fruition of concept and highly controlled musical units. Generations focuses on the system developed by a group as they put principles to work in one long, focused take in a controlled recording studio. Figurations takes this one step further, documenting the group in a live setting.
There were a number of factors that Okazaki changes in his progression from the deliberate Mirror to the more impromptu Figurations. His compositions are simplified, creating jumping off points for improvisation with his band mates. The ensemble is intentionally smaller than on Okazaki’s previous recordings to generate more impactful statements from each separate musician. The album is recorded live to promote a more extemporaneous feel in the final product.
Okazaki enlists a tremendous ensemble to breathe life into his unique compositions, including saxophonist Miguel Zenón, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Dan Weiss. It is the group’s collective energy, creative spirit and involvement with the audience that allows for the music to peak after a culmination of ten years of conception and practice into exhilarating performance.
The evidence of these engaging performances is preserved on the disc. “Dozens” leads off with an insistent rhythmic pattern with a melody played simultaneously by sax and guitar before leading into a rousing collection of solos. An experiment in changing tempos, the somber then manic “Rain” is based on a minor blues structure. “Wheel” is written as a three-voice canon emulating a wheel that at first “… turns unevenly, then smoothly, then rolls to a new location.” Thomas Morgan’s meditative bass solo provides an introduction to the title track, a composition that utilizes the Fibonacci numbers to shape the rhythm, harmony and melody.
The rhythmic mathematics are pushed to the limit on “Mandala” which features the amazing drummer Dan Weiss playing incredible time and improvising over a tricky time cycle. “Loom” is named for the weaving apparatus and features sax and guitar playing symmetrical melodies over a twelve-tone harmonic cycle moving at varying speeds between bass and drums. The finale “Corazón” is written to feature Zenón on a composition built to mimic the pulse of the human heart – a reference to both the technical and spiritual association to the heart as both the literal engine of the body and the figurative home of the soul.
Okazaki grew up in the world of the arts, his parents a painter and a photographer, in Port Townsend, Washington. He began as a visual artist but music quickly took over and he turned to the guitar. After graduating from Harvard, Okazaki moved to New York to attend the Manhattan School of Music and shortly thereafter began his career, performing with the likes of Regina Carter, Stanley Turrentine, Lenny Pickett and Jane Monheit. His interest in furthering his studies led him to Julliard School and independent studies in Brazilian guitar technique and South Indian music.
In 2005, Okazaki competed in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Guitar Competition where he placed as a finalist. With his winnings, he went on to record the first of his series of three releases, Mirror, that were to showcase his own theories on rhythm, harmony and melody. The second recording Generations was composed after receiving a “New Works” grant from Chamber Music American. Finally, Figurations was completed during an extended composer’s residency at the illustrious Jazz Gallery in New York City.
Along with his own projects, Okazaki has remained an invaluable collaborator and sideman, performing with musicians as diverse as Dan Weiss, Jen Shyu and Steve Coleman.
The music on Figurations represents the culmination of 10 years of study, composing and performing. Okazaki has put together a tremendous document that displays his own process and development, rooted in the science of sound, performed in the improvisational tradition, and expressed in the spirit of camaraderie.
released May 8, 2012
Miles Okazaki - guitar
Miguel Zenón - alto saxophone
Thomas Morgan - acoustic bass
Dan Weiss - drums