As the smoky licks of Akira Sakata’s opening sax solo suggest, this is, for long durations, not the freeform noise-fest that might be expected.
Jim O’Rourke, on guitar, joins in with subtle alternative or de-tuned chiming and Masami Akita aka Merzbow is only a ghostly background presence. Chris Corsano (drums) and Darin Gray (double bass) aka Chikamorachi make their presence felt only after five minutes as a low rumbling undertow, albeit Gray is soon thrumming with gentle plasticity á la Jimmy Garrison. Akata’s licks then turn to sour drizzle and Merzbow’s noise to thin, whiplash aerations, but after ten minutes the full group is finally in play.
O’Rourke is sounding unusually aggressive from the off, his playing spilling out of the end of the set’s first full-on improv thicket after 17 minutes in a state of wiry, drawn-out tensility, all feedback fuzz and gnarly sonics finally tamped down to near silence: a natural break bringing the first side of the double vinyl edition to a close.
With no indexes on the single-span, 71:31 CD the near silence is sustained, O’Rourke’s sonic scumble matched only by gently wavering Merz-sound and other noises unplaceable, collectively tense and abrasive but only very slowly, tentatively, testing boundaries, and coming to rest at 27:45.
In context, Sakata’s birdsong-like clarinet and Corsano’s light-touch percussion sifting is as logical here as it is unexpected, and the duo have space to develop their controlled intensities in isolation. Again, rather than a gradual accumulation of inputs and ratcheting-up, this flighty duet winds down with only the subtlest of other accompaniments until Sakata is fully, thoughtfully introspective, the other players keeping in touch only via subtly thrummed bass, gentle touches of guitar and Merzbow at his most restrained and delicate.
Approaching the 40 minute mark, O’Rourke essays a tersely ductile solo and Merzbow joins in with thin, piping synth tones before bass and drums also kick in. O’Rourke plays gritty chords, Merzbow becomes more aggressive, and Sakata starts chewing over his phrases, blowing with increasing fervour. A sinewy passage this, with avant-rock dynamics soon exploding into ferocious freestyle, O’Rourke fairly shredding.
The blowout abates ten minutes later, lulled by a renewed melodicism in Sakata’s playing, thus wrapping up the third vinyl side as neatly as the first.
A fine, melodious sax solo by turns gruff and altissimo bridges to the next group passage, a tense and compacted crescendo, in which Merzbow and O’Rourke craft ring modulation (cf. Forbidden Planet) and feedback, and Sakata lets rip with guttural vocalisations. In the final straight, the perhaps inevitable payoff in free jazz frictions and raw noise finally floods the levees of control. While Corsano expends considerable energies, O’Rourke’s playing is notably ferocious. Sakata holds back until the very climax, piling in to urge a raucously ear-splitting collective transcendence.
Flying Basket was recorded at Jim O’Rourke’s Steamroom studio in Tokyo, but Akira Sakata rightly shares top billing on a session that casts established relationships in a new light. Sakata and Chikamorachi have recorded four previous albums together since 1991, as have Sakata and O’Rourke, the live double And That’s The Story Of Jazz… (Family Vineyard, 2011) being the only one that brings them all together. Still, this is a finely-crafted session set apart from many similarly name-jammed blowouts. Merzbow is the added grit that’s produced a pearl. The scope in subtlety of his contribution may surprise those only familiar with his more uncompromising solo output.
Akira Sakata saxophone, clarinet; Jim O’Rourke guitar; Masami Akita noise; Darin Gray double bass, percussion; Chris Corsano drums.
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