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Stretching the boundaries

Miles Okazaki - Generations

4 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: June 1, 2008
Miles Okazaki

Review by Brad Walseth

Guitarist/composer Okazaki's follow-up to his impressive debut album, Mirror, Generations is a spectacular achievement in both conception and performance. Created thanks in part to a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, this recording brings many of the same exceptional cast of players from Mirror, interlocking alto saxophonists Miguel Zenon, David Binney and Christof Knoche, bassist Jon Flaugher and drummer Dan Weiss, along with vocalist Jen Shyu, together to play the nine compositions (nearly one-hour in length) straight through "live," with no breaks, electronics or overdubs. Okazaki's focus on organic form in nature is again central, and the liner notes available on his Web site ( detail how the music is meant to represent musical forms seen at various scales of magnification. The shape of the Hindu Damaru (hourglass-shaped drum), pentatonic scales, Quantum mechanics, birth and death cycles, the Yin/Yang, numeric series (including the infinity series) and 12-tone harmony and more all play a part in Okazaki's vision, but the bottom line is, despite the math (one would suspect this would lead to dry academic exercises), the music is fresh and exciting and remarkably organic.

This is music that is meant to be heard, and mere description invariably falls short. "Overture" enfolds with Shyu's wordless vocalizing over Flaugher and Weiss, who increase the rate of speed on their pattern until the unusual saxophone section (three altos?) comes in. The playing (and singing) here and throughout is exquisite. Weiss, whose study of the shifting rhythms of the tabla comes in handy on this recording, keeps things locked in with his powerful and precise drumming. The "Sun" rises and Okazaki takes one of his rare and beautiful solos. "Waves" gives all three alto players a chance to solo, and it is an inspiring chance to hear some of the most talented altoists on the planet dig in and cut loose. All three burn white hot, with Binney again adding to his legacy with an incredible solo that ends this piece by nearly setting fire to the atmosphere.

Shyu and Weiss are given solo turns during "Magic." I'm not generally a fan of wordless female vocals, but Shyu's work compels me to rethink my prejudices. The title track centers the album solidly, with fine solos from a soaring Zenon and talented bassist Flaugher, while Knoche and Okazaki are featured on "Ghosts" and deliver memorable improvisations. The driving "Fractal" explores time, with different musicians playing the melody at different speeds overlapping one another. The highly propulsive Weiss is given the improvisational spotlight on the short "Break" before the band kicks into the marvelous "Moon," which ends this singular musical adventure with the incredible Binney again soloing like only he can. Binney is having himself a great year so far, with the release of his excellent album Third Occasion," and his noteworthy work here.

Some may find Okazaki's work somewhat "out there," but in a world filled with musicians regurgitating past glories or incorporating the latest musical fad into their music, it is pure bliss to hear an artist striving and succeeding to stretch the boundaries of music and imagination.

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Miles Okazaki - "Generations Trailer"

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