The Best of the Miyumi Project celebrates 20 years of Tatsu Aoki’s culture-combining ensemble | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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The Best of the Miyumi Project celebrates 20 years of Tatsu Aoki’s culture-combining ensemble


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Tatsu Aoki left his native Tokyo in 1977 to study experimental film and settled in Chicago two years later. In addition to making films, he improvises, composes, and conducts music, playing bass, shamisen, and taiko drums, and by the early 1990s he’d connected with the local jazz scene, developing a particular affinity with past and present members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. In 2000 the tireless polymath founded the Miyumi Project, named after his third child, to express his sense of himself as an Asian American artist. Like the AACM’s flagship band, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the Miyumi Project invests combinations of musical styles with a ceremonial vibe. The ensemble’s size and instrumentation have changed over the past two decades, but certain elements persist. The soulful, woolly horns, usually played by Mwata Bowden and/or Edward Wilkerson Jr., affirm the band’s connection to jazz. The percussion, which often includes members of Aoki’s family on taiko drums, is steeped in Japanese folkloric styles. And Aoki’s bass playing, which encompasses raw drones and bold rhythms, connects the two like a sturdy wooden bridge. The Best of the Miyumi Project lives up to its name by selecting standout tracks that showcase the contributions of some of the great musicians who’ve passed through the group over the years, including cellist Jamie Kempkers, electric guitarist Rami Atassi, and the late trumpeter Ameen Muhammad.   v

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