Miles Okazaki  Thisness (Pi Recordings)

If the goal for Miles Okazaki’s Trickster ensemble is to deliver funk and swing simultaneously, consider it accomplished. Thisness is the guitarist’s third album with the group, comprised of keyboardist Matt Mitchell, bassist Anthony Tidd, and drummer Sean Rickman. During their five-year trajectory, they’ve tweaked their rhythmic process to the point where each move is a nod to nuance – overt stylistic ploys are banished for fear of them upsetting the band’s rather magical equilibrium. A chunk of that balance comes from the playbook of Steve Coleman, the saxophonist/bandleader who brokered the slippery M-BASE lingo a quarter century ago. Save Mitchell, each Trickster member has done time in Coleman’s camp, and here each shares their own perspective on those lessons. Their work parallels what Thisness liner notes scribe Robin D.G. Kelly deems their affinity for surrealism, especially the quartet’s shared responsibilities in shaping these four discrete tunes. Because Okazaki’s approach is determined to dodge genre references, its result is a flurry of perspectives drawn from a wide palette. The wily guitarist calls this zip code “the borderlands,” and from his mother’s visual art that helps define the aesthetic to the Sun Ra poem that provides the track titles, their mischief continuously morphs with an infectious sense of joy.

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