Miles Okazaki doesn’t have an instantly recognizable guitar sound, such as Mary Halvorson’s, and though he has strong ties to Steve Coleman, having played in his band, he isn’t an emissary from any movement, like Henry Threadgill-ian Liberty Ellman. But as the Washington-state native demonstrates on Trickster, his terrific, unfailingly enjoyable new album, he is a powerful individualist. His signature is the freshness of his ideas and the natural ease with which he and a crack quartet advance them.
Backed by the brilliant, ever-present pianist Craig Taborn (sounding freer than he sometimes does on his own acclaimed projects) and two Coleman regulars, bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Sean Rickman, Okazaki delivers a set of originals that make musical gamesmanship matter. Inspired in most cases by folklore—African, Native American, Asian, Egyptian—the songs employ infectious rhythmic schemes in the service of fetching melodic statements, sometimes in a way reminiscent of Vijay Iyer’s irresistible working trio.
“Box in a Box” comes at you from multiple directions, with Okazaki’s slippery, insistent lines navigating an overlay of jagged angles. The playing coalesces around a funk beat before giving way to Taborn’s blues statement. “Mischief,” which begins in a soulful mode, takes on a stealthy Brazilian feel. “The Calendar,” at 9:16 the longest track, is a stirring harmonic experiment that unfolds slowly, trance-like, with increasing intensity. Okazaki is at his most reflective here, building up to a stream of rapturous ascending notes with repeating three-note phrases, over undulating bass. With its blend of tricky ideas and deep feeling, Trickster sounds like a real breakthrough.