Consistently confounding expectations but never in a capricious way, Thisness, the fourth recording by guitarist Miles Okazaki’s band Trickster, builds smartly on a unique ensemble language that salutes two of his key influences—Thelonious Monk and Steve Coleman—without dwelling in their shadow. (Okazaki was a member of Coleman’s band Five Elements from 2008-17; two bandmates, drummer Sean Rickman and bassist Anthony Tidd, join him in this ensemble, with keyboard wizard Matt Mitchell rounding out the lineup.) In the liner notes, he writes, “The album is a set of themes that are shuffled and connected in different ways to make four large movements.” The music moves confidently, building into beguiling textures and featuring solos and group improvisations that emerge organically.
Each of the four movements that make up Okazaki’s album is about 10 minutes long, lending some consistency and balance to the listening experience. Each member at times takes a sound out of the bell-bottomed portfolio of jazz-funk and abstracts it so that the music is simultaneously familiar and new. Whether out front or in the supporting weave of textures, Okazaki always sounds like he’s delving for deeper sounds. At times Mitchell is following him closely and at others he’s playing contrasting lines that put the leader’s quest in stark relief. Rickman and Tidd follow similar strategies, though in less assertive ways.
A watercolor painting by the guitarist’s mom, Linda Okazaki, is one of the cornerstone influences on this set and serves as the cover art; looking at it makes one yearn for the vinyl experience.
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