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Miles Okazaki: Trickster’s Dream (Pi)

A review of the guitarist's “imagined live concert”

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Miles Okazaki: Trickster's Dream
The cover of Trickster’s Dream by Miles Okazaki

Guitarist Miles Okazaki is in a sweet-spot phase of his career. It began in 2017 with a new quartet and its eponymous album, Trickster (2017), in which Okazaki began to compose and play in the folkloric spirit of tricksters: mischief-makers who assume guises, disrupt the status quo, open doors. His stint with Steve Coleman’s Five Elements was an obvious influence, as well as a source of personnel; bassist Anthony Tidd, drummer Sean Rickman, and keyboardist Matt Mitchell (who replaced original Trickster member Craig Taborn for 2019’s The Sky Below) have all played with Coleman.

When the pandemic prevented Trickster from embarking on a planned tour, Okazaki came up with the “imagined live concert” that is Trickster’s Dream, a shared recording and video of the four members playing from their respective homes. Okazaki hummed out the template for this virtual gig (six of the eight songs from The Sky Below, one from Trickster, and three interludes of mostly solo guitar) and the band’s innate daredevil sensibility followed through marvelously in the overdubs.

Typical of most live performances, the vibe is more aggressive and tactile—Okazaki’s riffs on the opening song, “Rise and Shine,” are fat and fuzzy where the studio version was lithe and fleet, and Mitchell mostly eschewed his Prophet for acoustic piano. But the ensemble’s signature dynamics hold true. Tidd and Rickman have developed extraordinary synergy. Mitchell is more architect than painter, the timing and nature of his chordal choices erecting new structures on the fly. Okazaki smolders, flames, retreats into multicolored embers. His three interludes are fast-fingered showcases for a style that nods to prog-rock and fusion with less grandiosity.

Last but not least, get ahold of the video, an array of the cameras within each home. (It comes with the paid digital download/stream available on Bandcamp, with all proceeds going to the musicians.) It reveals the decision-making, the grins and satisfied grimaces during the group interaction. And on the first interlude, Okazaki puts his process of layering each part in a visual row, so you see how the fretwork interlocks. A trickster’s tell on the making of the magic.