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«Live in Europe 2022»

More than two hours of Akira Sakata bliss. The Japanese singular reeds master Akira Sakata toured Europe in April 2022 with a core trio of Italian pianist Giovanni di Domenico, who collaborated with Sakata many times in different formats in the last decade, and Greek guitarist Giotis Damianidis (who recorded with Sakata and di Domenico in 2018 Hōryū-Ji, Mr. Nakayasi, 2019,  with the late Greek drummer Christos Yermenoglou to whom this album is dedicated). This trio, augmented by different drummers and one double bass player was recorded live in Thessaloniki during Duende Jazz Upstairs, at Centro d’arte in Padova and at Les Ateliers Claus in Brussels, during its five-city tour.

This generous double album offers two extended free improvised pieces from each performance. The trio was augmented in the performance in Thessaloniki by Greek double bass player Petros Damianidis and drummer Stephanos Chytiris. This performance begins with an explosive, almost psychedelic energy but reaches its emotional climax in the second piece, with Sakara now channeling the powerful masculine energy into urgent lyricism, and highlighting the close, emphatic interplay of Sakata and di Domenico, and one-of-its-kind poetic, pathos-filled speech that only Sakata can deliver, and its turn ignites a cathartic coda.

The performance in Padova was of a quartet with Hungarian drummer Balázs Pándi, who has played with another Japanese heavyweight legend, noise maker, Merzbow (aka Masami Akita, in a trio with Mats Gustafsson). Pándi’s manic pounding of the drums sets the atmosphere of the first, wild and chaotic piece before Sakata and later di Domenico take the lead and introduce some loose form to this uncompromising collision of titans. In the second piece, di Domenico and Damianidis (who worked together before in the pan-European Punk Kong band) cook a psychedelic stew, letting Sakata soar gently over their atmospheric sounds and deliver another stream-of-thought speech, a very angry and dramatic one. Dii Domenico’s insistent hammering on the piano leads into the explosive conclusion, again, with the mighty blows of Pándi on the drums.

The performance in di Domenico’s adopted hometown, Brussels, is of a quartet with Serbian, Netherlands-based drummer Aleksandar Škorić, known for his work with American sax player John Dikeman. The first piece is a fiery free jazz piece, with Damianidis’ effects-laden, prog-rock meets fusion and psychedelia electric guitar acting as the backbone of its dense and intense dynamics. The second piece begins with a gentle, emotional tone, with Sakata playing on the clarinet a beautiful melody, resonated imaginatively by di Domenico and Damianidis. It soon gravitates into a tense and rhythmic blowout that prepares Sakata’s last, free-associative speech, now sounding like a wise sage or shaman who conducts a spiritual ritual and shares his unique experience and wisdom with like-minded followers, on stage and in the audience. And it ends with a cathartic, powerful coda, with all four musicians exhausting all their powers.

Eyal Hareuveni

Akira Sakata (alto saxophone, clarinet, vocals, bells), Giovanni di Domenico (piano), Giotis Damianidis (electric guitar), Petros Damianidis (double bass), Stephanos Chytiris (drums), Balázs Pándi (drums), Aleksandar Škorić (drums)