A native of Japan, bassist and composer Tatsu Aoki come to Chicago nearly 30 years ago and quickly established himself as one of the pre-eminent improvising bassists in the city. No mean feat, given the number of world-class jazz bassists in Chicago. Early on, he was drawn to the AACM, and helped found the Asian Improv organization which drew directly from the AACM ethos to provide a platform and rallying point for the promotion and nurturing of all types Asian American music. As a sideman, Aoki has worked with Joseph Jarman, Don Moye, Roscoe Mitchell, Max Roach, Fred Anderson, Hamid Drake, Jon Jang, and Jeff Parker to name just a few.
The Miyumi Project is Aoki’s vehicle to explore the disparate worlds of modern jazz and traditional Japanese Taiko drumming. "re:ROOTED" is, itself, a hybrid of two previous Aoki projects - a modern jazz big band with a Taiko drum section in addition to a western trap kit player, and a reeds-and-drums ensemble which included both Taiko and Korean traditional instruments. Multi-reed artist Mwata Bowden was a key participant on both of these earlier projects, and he plays a prominent role on "re:ROOTED" as well.
On the CD's three most lengthy tracks ('Episode One', 'Laquer', and 'Gate'), the Taiko drummers create a deep hypnotic groove by using a contrapuntal quasi-trapset approach. Ride patterns are rapped out on the wooden edge or side of the drum, while the interplay among the different individual Taiko drums models that of the snare and bass drums on a typical jazz drum kit. It’s an interesting approach, though it doesn’t really get stretched out on these slow- to moderate-tempo pieces. When backing the soloists, the Taiko drums don’t so much swing as they sway. Unfortunately, they also don’t play fills like a jazz drummer, or phrase polyrhythmically like African or Afro-Cuban dummers. Consequently, I found the thematic materials - with their more elaborate drum parts - much more interesting from a percussion standpoint.
The most successful tracks are the shorter, more atmospheric pieces. On ‘Episode Three’, the drummers swap their drums for a variety of bells, shakers, and metal objects. This opens up a whole new dimension to the music, as Aoki’s resonant, driving bass lines propel the reed and violin soloists to new heights. Traditional Japanese strings and flutes played by Aoki, reedman Jeff Chan, and guest Kazu Terashima add entirely new flavors to the haunting ‘Shadow to Shadow and Beyond’. The dark, mysterious ‘Episode Two’ is an extensively modified slow blues that features brilliant solos by Wong, Bowden, and violinist Jonathan Chen - who turns in the disc’s most radical playing.