When: Mon., May 9, 8:30 p.m. 2016
This local quartet has remained intact since guitarist Andrew Trim and reedist Mai Sugimoto formed it in the wake of the tragic Tohoku tsunami in 2011, but its raison d’etre has changed over the years. Both musicians spent extended time growing up in Japan, and they originally assembled the band as a one-off project to raise money for the disaster’s victims. But they were so pleased with the performance they decided to keep the quartet—which also includes drummer Charles Rumback and bass clarinetist Jason Stein—working. The group’s terrific 2014 eponymous debut preserves its opening repertoire, a mix of children’s songs, Japanese classical music, and 60s pop tunes made famous by singer-actor Kyu Sakamoto, all played with a refreshing airiness that still leaves room for dramatic tension; Rumback provides his special brand of post-Paul Motian rumble, while the rest of the bass-free ensemble delivers a timbre with a lovely sweet-sour tang. Wary of becoming stuck with a repertoire of Japanese melodies, however, the leaders decided to write original pieces for the new The Only Way to Float Free (Ears & Eyes). Some compositions, like Sugimoto’s “Hanaikada” and Trim’s title track, retain the airy quality of the debut, but most of the pieces reveal a more aggressive approach. “Kita Nagano Motorcycle Gang” chugs with hard-rock energy, augmented by crunchy riffing from Trim and furious bombs from Rumback (who tuned his kit lower than usual to provide extra bottom), while “Donmai!” leaps from an Ornette-ish head into some high-octane free blowing. The quartet does close with an old Japanese melody from 1901 called “Kojo No Tsuki,” which was later recorded by Thelonious Monk as “Japanese Folk Song” on his 1967 album Straight, No Chaser.