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The Miyumi Project by The Miyumi Project

The Miyumi Project is actually primarily the project of Tatsu Aoki, who is best known for producing last year's highly acclaimed reading of Ellington's "Far East Suite" by the Asian American Jazz Orchestra. Aoki also produced this disc and wrote all about one of the nine compositions ­with the other being an Aoki arrangement of a traditional song. He also plays bass on eight of the tracks while playing the Taiko ­a Japanese drum- on the remaining cut. His bass playing tends to work well with the music even if it is not the most interesting on its own. The disc ends with an 89 second track ­titled "Apology", interestingly enough- that is a beautiful bass solo and the most compelling piece of music found on it.

That said, it is Mwata Bowden that gets the plurality of time to shine. It is, in fact, not wholly incorrect to divide the disc in half between Bowden and the other five. The other musicians all seem to be playing around Bowden as he gets the opportunity to explore a series of short themes on The Miyumi Project. At various points, his sax playing recalls players such as Fred Anderson, who like Bowden is associated with the avant garde jazz scene in Chicago, and Archie Shepp for its bluesy inflections and quick delivery. Still the use of the berry sax gives a sound different from the norm and Bowden tends to create a circular sound. While all of these elements have been found in other players, their coalescence in Bowden's playing gives him a unique and less derivative sound. When he trades his sax for a clarinet or the always cool Digeridoo, Bowden produces a sound with mostly the same forms but more aggressive and angry tinges. At no point, however, does Bowden fly off the handle and create a "blow out" type atmosphere. He always seems to be in control of his playing.

The three percussionists play well together and lay the undisputed foundation for the bulk of the tracks. I regret being unable to identify how each instrument sounds and thus can not separate the each player's work. Reedist Robbie Hunsinger is much like Aoki in that he delivers competent but generally not very expressive playing.

And that is the main problem with The Miyumi Project as a whole. The combination of various influences from Asian, European, and American music forms is interesting intellectually but the music just did not move me. Other listeners might have a different reaction and there will undoubtedly be plenty to like if you are a fan of any of the players or enjoy the use Asian instruments or influences in jazz. I wouldn't say that other listeners should steer clear of this disc but before purchasing it, do keep in mind that that this is not the incredible mixture which could occur with these elements.

There is still a strong possibility that we will get to the full fruits of such cross-pollination before long though. The Miyumi Project is the first joint release between the Chicago based Southport label and Asian Improv Records out of San Francisco. More than just the coming together of two companies, this partnership promises to pair musicians playing on similar but different borders of jazz. The Miyumi Project shows that some good music has already resulted. Here's to hoping that the next releases are great!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: The Miyumi Project
  • CD Title: The Miyumi Project
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2000
  • Record Label: Southport/Asian Improv Records
  • Musicians: Tatsu Aoki (bass, Taiko – Japanese drum) Mwata Bowden (baritone saxophone, clarinet, Digeridoo) Paul Kim (Buk – Korean drum) Hide Yoshihashi (Shime – Japanese high pitched, small drum) Patti Adachi (Taiko – Japanese drum) Robbie Hunsinger (oboe, Shenai, Sona)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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