Any great chess master knows that the true art of the game—the grace, wit, and poetry of strategy that has kept us obsessed with it for six centuries—comes from mid-game play, when the opening moves are spent and the more improvisatory element of the game takes place. The same is true of “The Memory Palace” and “Middlegame,” the two suites that each make up one disc of drummer Dan Weiss and guitarist Miles Okazaki’s Music for Drums and Guitar.
Both pieces were commissioned by John Zorn for his Stone Commissioning Series and written in 2019. Like a great chess match, both pieces call into question how much was envisioned ahead of time and how much is based on reaction, observation, and sharply hewn instinct. They reward open ears and careful listening.
In the fifth part of Weiss’ “Middlegame,” he and Okazaki propel each other with punk- and metal-like intensity, Weiss hammering a beat worthy of Minor Threat while Okazaki weaves a scrunched, angular melody through the blasting percussion. Almost a theme-and-variations in form over 13 minutes, it is hypnotic and energizing all at once. Then, in the last minute, Okazaki switches from his baroque, acoustic/electric guitar style to something closer to Bill Frisell or David Gilmour, elevating the piece into dreamy, distorted new territory.
Okazaki’s “The Memory Palace,” based on the mnemonic device of the same name, finds the two in a space that’s less tightly reactive and flows more openly, like a controlled stream of consciousness. For part three, the duo opens with an extended, meditative exchange. Okazaki’s tone turns fuzzy and squishy, like Thundercat meets Yes. Then in a flash, that tone is gone, like a faded memory, as Okazaki and Weiss beckon you to follow them through the next twist.
Learn more about Music for Drums and Guitar on Bandcamp!