by Kieran McAuliffe
Miles Okazaki’s latest release Trickster shows the continued development of his unique rhythmically elusive jazz guitar style. He recorded the album while on tour with his mentor Steve Coleman, to which comparisons are inevitable, though Miles definitely proves himself as an independent artist with a unique voice. As the name of the record suggests, Trickster is not about spoon-feeding singable melodies to the listener. Miles instead presents puzzles: snaky rhythmic phrases that reveal their simple interior only to the careful listener.
The album features a cast not unfamiliar to fans of Okazaki and the scene around him. He borrows electric bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Sean Rickmann from Coleman’s band to help strongly outline the thorny rhythmic forms of these compositions. Pianist Craig Taborn acts as a great counterpart to Miles, as the two trade off both rhythmic chords and melodic phrases especially on tracks like “Box in a Box” and “Kudzu”, and also taking the lead role on “Eating Earth”.
Reflecting the cover art featuring origami animals crafted from simple paper base, an understated acoustic texture permeates the whole record. Unlike his contemporaries that use guitar tones colored by electronics, Okazaki sticks to either a hollow body guitar plugged straight into an amp or a nylon string acoustic. All members of the ensemble play with great instrumental patience, never overstriking notes and never saturating the tonal field with aimless shredding. The result is none of the daunting cascades of noise one expects from an album that falls within the realm of “experimental jazz’”.
Unlike on his previous works, Miles brings in a funk element on tracks such as “Mischief Maker”, “Box in a Box” and “Caduceus” reminiscent of Coleman’s works. On the last track “Borderland” features Miles exposed playing solo on an acoustic guitar, demonstrating not only that complex rhythms can be handled by a guitarist alone, but also that they can be lyrical. Along with giving the audience a knot to untie, Trickster questions where experimental jazz on the guitar can go.