The most interesting man in Japanese jazz leads an international quartet | Music Review | Chicago Reader

The most interesting man in Japanese jazz leads an international quartet 

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Courtesy the Artist

If you ask Google to translate “Bonjintan” from Japanese into English, it will tell you the word means “ordinary person”—but there’s nothing ordinary about the leader of this international quartet. Akira Sakata, born in Hiroshima early in 1945, has had a dazzlingly varied career: he’s a marine biologist who lectures on water fleas and biodiversity; a former television comedian and media personality who once appeared in a Seiko watch commercial with Grace Jones; and a jazz saxophonist whose work encompasses smooth adaptations of Japanese folk and toe-to-toe slugfests with the likes of Peter Brötzmann. At age 75, he no longer has to prove a thing, but he isn’t letting himself coast: he sounds engaged and exploratory throughout Bonjintan’s latest release, Dental Kafka. Sakata’s bandmates in Bonjintan include his compatriot Tatsuhisa Yamamoto on drums, former Chicagoan Jim O’Rourke on double bass, and Roman-born Giovanni Di Domenico on keyboards, but their collective acumen enables him to move fluidly among approaches. The album opens with an eerie exploration of high string frequencies and drifting piano figures, which sets the stage for a growling vocal entrance by Sakata that sounds like a cross between a soliloquy in a Noh play and a voice-over in a noir film. On the title track, Sakata’s keening alto sax hovers over the combo’s roiling free-jazz accompaniment, but a more intimate tone emerges when the bandleader switches to clarinet for the last half of this nearly hour-long set.   v

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