Miles Okazaki seems to have a lot of concerns: Straying away from predictability, diving into new ways of interpreting material, parsing out intervals and rhythms to the smallest detail. But at the core of his music, Okazaki seeks what all musicians seek—to collectively breathe life into musical ideas. When it comes to Okazaki’s sound, nothing is predictable and nothing is certain.
Continuing in his mode of deep inquiry and total immersion, Okazaki infused his newest album with concepts of physical tactility, astrological motion, and sonic disruption. In celebration of the release of Trickster (Pi Recordings), Okazaki will bring Craig Taborn, Anthony Tidd, and Sean Rickman to the Gallery to breathe life into the ‘seeds and cells’ of the project’s compositional material. And, in the spirit of Okazaki’s creative process, we spoke in depth about the project, from the broad strokes to the minutiae.
The Jazz Gallery: In the Trickster trailer, you mentioned that “With these types of musicians, it’s a waste of their abilities for me to be trying to have too much control. These are small ideas that can open up some space for us to do something.” Did you begin this musical approach before the “Trickster” project?
Miles Okazaki: It has primarily evolved out of the process of becoming a better editor of my own material. If I write a certain amount of material, can I cut out nine-tenths of it and still get at the main idea? I try to find a good thing, then use it. Generally, the smaller the seed, the more flexible and mobile it can be, especially if you’re dealing with the types of musicians who can realize the implications and possibilities of that seed.
TJG: So what does that editing process look like, whether on the guitar, on staff paper, on the computer?
MO: Some on guitar, but on this record, I wanted a tactile element to it, wanted to see how these things would feel on the instrument. So I wrote the drum parts by sitting at the drums, the bass and guitar parts at the guitar, the piano parts at the piano. That’s an editing process in itself, because I don’t play any of those instruments very well, including the guitar [laughs]. The editing process for this record was that I’d sit down and ask, “What do I remember from last time I explored this material?” Whatever I remembered, I figured that was the good thing, and the rest I’d just let go.
TJG: Was this approach in response to a way of making music that wasn’t really working for you?
MO: I’ve been moving toward something like this, trusting my intuition and judgement about the material. Not to be overly precious, not to hold on just because I spent a long time figuring something out. Some of these tunes are the results of years of work on certain concepts, but they shouldn’t exist just because I spent a long time on them. It’s not like playing poker and being ‘pot committed,’ where you just have to keep betting. Some of these songs are short little tunes, where I spent a really long time on them, but all that remains is what I think of as, you know, hieroglyphs on the cave walls, washed away over the years. You just see a little bit of what remains. Like the cliche of the sand castle that gets washed away, and you just see the general shape where the strongest parts remain. Memory is like that too. You remember the most important things, and some of the details disappear over time. You slowly build a personal story as some things stand out and other things fade.