Saxophonist/composer Tim O’Dell and bassist Tatsu Aoki come to this duo recording with solid credentials. O’Dell is Saxophone/Jazz Studies instructor at the University of Southern Maine and former Director of Jazz Studies/Professor of Saxophone at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. He holds a Master of Music degree in Jazz Studies from the New England Conservatory and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Saxophone from the University of Iowa and has worked with artists such as Danilo Perez, Tim Hagans, George Garzone, Louis Bellson, Gunther Schuller, Muhal Richard Abrams, George Russell and The Temptations.
Aoki, born and raised in Tokyo before moving to Chicago at the age of 19, is founder of the Chicago Asian-American Jazz Festival, now known as "Asian-American Jazz" and held in other cities beside Chicago and executive producer of Asian Improv Records in San Francisco. He has recorded seven solo bass albums, eight duet albums with various other artists, 13 ensemble works and has appeared on over 60 other albums as a guest artist. Among the artists he has worked with include Fred Anderson, Von Freeman, George Freeman, Malachi Favors, Maghostut, Don Moye, Mwata Bowden, Jhon Watson and Son Seals.
Together O’Dell and Aoki perform a series of essentially 13 free-jazz duets (the three-movement "Ancient Pines Suite" includes Ryan Shultz on bass trumpet). In their favor is a shared sense of space, mitigated by thoughtful concepts and at times a swinging sensibility. Working with shorter track lengths than is usual for free-jazz, the longest clocks in at 6:43 but most are in the four-minute time range, serves both artists well. Within confined time structures they are able to take a single concept and explore its various permutations before losing listeners. O’Dell is a good technician who leaves room for audience consumption of his ideas, as well as allowing there to be a real dialogue with Aoki. Aoki is a skilled artisan who favors a style taken from the AACM movement of open vistas. By not stuffing his instrument’s register with a tumult of activity he is able to create a more concise and sympathetic interplay with O’Dell.
The best cuts are those with Shultz on the "Ancient Pines Suite." By mixing the three artists, who all employ the concept of thoughtful motivic development, a nice danceful interplay is fashioned.
On the negative side all of the tracks tend to sound related and similar. O’Dell, by limiting himself to the exploration of a single concept per track, ends up playing a number of similar licks across many tracks. One would think he’d be freer to explore in a duet setting, but perhaps he tried too hard. His work with a quintet on his previous CD, Before My Life (Southport, 2001), is more compelling and actually provided him more room for expression. This is disc is not the best place to start if you want to explore each of these artists.