Hanami Quartet | Constellation | Jazz | Chicago Reader
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Hanami Quartet 

When: Fri., Sept. 5, 9 p.m. 2014
Price: $10
Guitarist Andrew Trim and reedist Mai Sugimoto live in Chicago now, but they both spent parts of their childhoods in Japan. Following the disastrous Tohoku tsunami in 2011, they put together Hanami Quartet (with bass clarinetist Jason Stein and drummer Charles Rumback), intending to raise funds for Japan’s recovery with a one-off benefit concert. But they were so happy with that performance that they kept the project alive, and this weekend they celebrate the release of the band’s self-titled debut on Off Records. For their repertoire, Trim and Sugimoto turned to the melodies they grew up with in Japan—children’s songs, Japanese classical music, and pop tunes made famous by Kyu Sakamoto. Some of them sounded familiar to me too, and after Trim provided some background, I realized that the 1961 Sakamoto smash “Ue o Muite Aruko” had become a top-ten hit in the U.S. after A Taste of Honey released it as “Sukiyaki” in 1981. The charged performances, which exploit contrasts between the instrumentalists (soft and loud, smooth and rough), create a tension that counterbalances the frequent sentimentality of the melodies. Rumback reveals the influence of Paul Motian more explicitly than usual, bringing a rumbling bottom end to his playing, and Stein and Sugimoto’s intertwined lines toy with a delicious sour-sweet dichotomy. Trim’s lovely underwater guitar tone softens the edges of his lines but retains a gentle bite, and he juggles two roles, sometimes playing harmonies and sometimes bass lines. He also solos occasionally, as does Stein—but where the guitarist is tender and lyrical, the bass clarinetist is biting and furious, especially on “Sakura Sakura,” where the group all but abandons the safety net of chords and keys to give him free rein. —Peter Margasak

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