Apr 22 2016
There is something positively addictive about the Hanami quartet’s concoction of modern jazz improvisation, avant-garde edge and pop music sensibilities. Formed originally in the spirit of raising funds to aid Japanese tsunami victims, they enjoyed their project enough to eventually put together a studio recording. That album, the self-titled Hanami Quartet, provided a series of modern jazz takes on Japanese songs. And though its main point of contact is gonna be a cerebral one, the music is no less engaging… a potent mix of sonic fluency and cinematic ambiance. And even when a song grows increasingly volatile, there’s always a comforting lullaby nature to it. Their newest, the 2016 release The Only Way To Float Free, swings the other way on that spectrum, giving more weight to feel over thought, and letting the volatility boil over so that the lullaby is more sensed than sung.
There is nothing particularly graceful about this round of music, and that’s a big part of its charm. The action on their cadence is a lurching one, almost clumsy, the personification of a veteran drunk’s cliffhanger balance as he winds his way home along a familiar path. That motion is a special kind of hypnotic, of keeping the attention riveted to where the next beat lands. A lot of this has a lot to do with how bass clarinetist Jason Stein and alto saxophonist Mai Sugimoto weave around one another, never really connecting, like dance partners perpetually giving their counterpart the cold shoulder. That winding motion added to the steady as a forest stream rhythm unit of guitarist Andrew Trim and drummer Charles Rumback is where the addiction factors in. Because as fun as it is to trace the reeds duo patterns, it’s guitar and drums that sweep the music along.
As with anything, generalities only carry so far. “Donmail” is a get-up-and-shout series of solos, and the motion is more of a standard shoot-for-the-sky variety. Sometimes “Kita Nagano Motorcycle Club” is a celebration of streamlined speed and sometimes it’s the messy cloud of dust kicked up in its wake.
With many tracks, such as “Kanzemizu,” the quartet’s primary choice is one of sharp cuts or rough blows, and the lyricism hides behind this action like a deer peeking out from within the brush. But then Hanami tosses out a track like “Hanaikada,” and then the quartet’s tools of the trade switch between soft poetry and hard prose. Ultimately, the story is always right there out front… it’s just a question of whether it’s told with tempo or shown with the hazy imagery of melody.
The quartet uses the album’s finale to offer up a bit of a throwback to their debut, while keeping close to the voice of their present tense. A rendition of composer Rentarō Taki’s “Kojo No Tsuki” brings the melody out front, lets it breathe deep, even as the quartet batters it with the waves of a choppy cadence, unending.
In the brief duration of two recordings, this group has really developed a personable sound with all kinds of distinguishing marks. It’ll be interesting to see how it continues to develop.
Your album personnel: Mai Sugimoto (alto sax, clarinet), Andrew Trim (guitar), Jason Stein (bass clarinet) and Charles Rumback (drums).
Released on Ears & Eyes Records.
Listen to more album tracks on the artist’s Bandcamp page.
Jazz from the Chicago scene.