Listing Generations (Sunnyside) – the last album from the guitarist Miles Okazaki – among his top ten releases of 2009 in ArtForum, Vijay Iyer describes what he heard: “a recursively structured, fractally detailed labyrinth of music — the sonic equivalent of Escher or Borges, but with real emotional heft.”
Characterized as “an exceedingly skilled guitarist with a head for rhythmic convolution” by The New York Times, Miles was raised in Port Townsend, Washington. He holds degrees from Harvard, Manhattan School of Music, and Juilliard, and was the 2nd place finalist in the 2005 Thelonious Monk Guitar Competition. He has honed his skills in bands led by Stanley Turrentine, Kenny Barron, and Steve Coleman, among others.
FIGURATIONS (2012) is the third volume in the large compositional cycle that began with MIRROR (2006), and GENERATIONS (2009). A listener to all three albums may notice certain elements reappearing in different form. There is also a larger development in these three volumes, from a focus on extremely formal and controlled structures, moving gradually toward a looser conception of group interplay. This is meant to mirror the process that the improvising musician goes through, from concept to practice to spontaneity. MIRROR was recorded in small pieces and highly produced, GENERATIONS was recorded in the studio in a continuous take, and FIGURATIONS was recorded live with an audience. This can be seen to represent a gradual acceptance of the balance between control and natural forces. A good comparison might be a garden that is planted with strict rows and borders, and is left to grow on its own for a few years, at which time natural forms have sprouted up and entertwined with each other in a way that is seemingly chaotic, but governed by natural law, and built on the foundation of an underlying structure that has now all but disappeared. This idea of simplifying and letting go of control is manifest in a few ways on this record. The sheet music is minimal, only the seeds of ideas, which are then entrusted to the musicians to generate ideas and structures. The group is also minimal, a quartet, which allows for space and presents more detail about each performer. There is also the guitar, which uses no effects ar processing at all. With live recording there is no option to fix errors, so part of the process is learning to accept or even enjoy the missteps or digressions of a live performance that bring the music into unexpected territory.
The music on Figurations was commissioned by The Jazz Gallery during our 2011 Residency Commissions series, and the album was recorded live on our stage during the premiere concert. Miles and his quartet (featuring the bassist Thomas Morgan, the drummer Dan Weiss, and the saxophonist Mark Turner, who will sub for Miguel Zenón) will return to The Gallery to celebrate the release of the album this Saturday.
You can hear the title track from the album and view some of Miles’ accompanying artwork (we highly recommend checking out the rest here) below. In the liner notes, he offers the following commentary:
A cycle in golden proportions (89:55). The rhythmic figure is an hourglass shape, the harmony follows Fibonacci numbers, and the melody follows the composite of both of these cycles, in the form of canon in double counterpoint. The form of the cycle is like a type of blues (12×12), over which ornate figurations link together into a continuous woven texture.