Akira Sakata & Giovanni Di Domenico "Iruman"

Image of Akira Sakata & Giovanni Di Domenico "Iruman"


Commissioned by Portuguese label Mbari, “Iruman” – which, in a career spanning 40 years, is Sakata’s first duo recording with a pianist – is built upon paradoxes. Its title, for example, notwithstanding the deconstructionist urge one senses throughout the CD, suggests brotherhood or even redemption. After all, iruman is a Japanese word of Portuguese origin, derived from the etymon “irmão” (“brother”), used by Jesuits who reached Japan in the XVI century. But, in the present context, the meaning of the word is only fully captured if we ignore its implicit missionary zeal. In fact, one could argue that what this music evokes does not stem from that ancient geographic and cultural collision but, rather, precedes it.

Sakata has always questioned stereotypes. His performance takes on a ritualism that is at times sardonic, others tender, taking communion from a truth that is unreachable and yet perfectly relatable. Perhaps because of this, even while fully integrated in a scene where most have a perfect notion of how free improvisation should sound like, he has remained immune to sectarianism. In “Iruman” the main drive behind the action was the premonitory nature stirred by an encounter with Giovanni Di Domenico, another iconoclastic juggler. Recorded on November 5, 2012, at the GOK Sound studio in Tokyo, the present material suffered no other predetermination.
Steeped in mysticism – one could well describe as anachronistic, if that concept wasn’t more of a feature in each listener’s own mind – these themes flow naturally with a dynamic that has something in common with that of chamber music though it emphasizes aspects usually neglected in the latter. There are provoking asymmetries, elliptic piano chords and cathartic oratories, niceties on the clarinet and astringent exhalations on the alto sax. An ambiance that could have been construed by a scenographer transports the duo to a remote village, devoted to enigmatic and ancient cults. This is not music of derision, destined to puncture conventions, even though Sakata and Di Domenico practice it splendidly. It isn’t specifically servile either.

Given over to so many nuances, in these spontaneously generated structures, perhaps its most surprising characteristic is its cohesion. Whirlwind declamations and primeval litanies serve a gregarious logic, in which the well-honed instincts of the improvisers methodically balance out individual utopia and collective drama. A certain phrasing from Di Domenico appears to gather countless phases of jazz piano, while other choices could effortlessly feature on a post-serialist piece. Sakata likewise sails towards a point of synthesis one would argue is inhabited by many other voices apart from his own – a tactic that is both tempted by transcendence as well as marked by minutiae, typical of one who investigates microscopic systems, i.e. those invisible to the naked eye.

In that regard, “Iruman” summons onto itself a perplexity generally absent from, not to mention almost contrary to, improvised music: that which presumes no man is the absolute lord of all he does and even less of his historical time. Sakata and Di Domenico are separated by nearly thirty years and originate from very distinct cultural universes, yet in translating all that is sacred and profane in creation, they are indeed like brothers.