I have to admit at the outset that Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yellow Magic Orchestra, and whatever other ensembles the man spawned never have been among my favorite musics. I'm much more a Stomu Yamash'ta kinda crit. The selections in Meg Okura and the Pan-Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble's Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto, however, dear friends, are a potpourri of re-imagined, re-composed, re-mixed, re-arranged, and re-everythinged songs in a jazz idiom sometimes Gershwinesque, sometimes prairie, sometimes neoclassical, often pointillistic, and always catchy as hell, never lacking for energy and invention. All of a sudden I'm liking Sakamoto very much indeed.
The ensemble is a five-piece and quite virtuosic, kinda like smashing Kronos Quartet, Bang on a Can, the Philip Glass Ensemble, and other insanely talented musos together in a sandwich with Duke Ellington, Mingus, and Wynton Marsalis. For just a quintet, they sure stir things up. And Okura didn't merely handle all the interpretations but also plays a hellishly cool violin and erhu, Philharmonic concert level. Ms. Okura's work in refurbishing the oeuvre is both subtle and in your face, brilliantly crafted and daunting one moment, smooth but deceptive the next. More than once, I was reminded of Toru Takemitsu, Gidon Kremer, and, at the strangest times, Arvo Part and others.
Things get especially interesting when the time signatures fall apart, as in the 10:19 Grief, only to slowly re-integrate and then move in a different direction. Ornamentations and embellishments are masterfully controlled as psychological levels start shifting and blending, always letting into the unexpected. Fans of noise music, free jazz, and the artiest aspects of progrock can rejoice along with the structuralists, because I don't think there's a trick or move the estimable Meg missed. I'm now going to have to go back and re-consider what I may have too lightly passed over since I first ran into Sakamoto, lo those years ago. If Okura got all this out of his oeuvre, I must've missed quite a bit.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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