Trickster is guitarist Miles Okazaki’s first album in five years and his much anticipated debut on Pi Recordings, having been featured on six other releases in the label’s catalog in groups led by Steve Coleman, Jonathan Finlayson, and Dan Weiss, along with associations with other Pi artists such as Matt Mitchell, Jen Shyu, and Amir ElSaffar. Perhaps best-known as a member of Steve Coleman and Five Elements, with whom he has played for the last eight years, Okazaki has also built a solid reputation for himself as one of the most adventurous composers and guitarists on the current scene. The New York Times says of Okazaki, “Even by the standard of his hyper-literate post-bop peer group, Mr. Okazaki is an unusually calculating musical thinker,” and as a guitarist, “exceedingly skilled with a head for rhythmic convolution.”
Originally from Port Townsend, Washington, Okazaki began playing classical guitar at age six, and was playing regular gigs on electric guitar by age fourteen. He moved to New York after graduating from Harvard University (he also holds degrees from Manhattan School of Music and The Juilliard School) to pursue a career in music. His teacher on guitar at the time was Rodney Jones, who got Okazaki’s career in motion by recommending him for early gigs with Stanley Turrentine, Lenny Pickett, Regina Carter, and studio session work. He has received many awards as a guitarist including placing second in the 2005 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Okazaki spent four years on the road with vocalist Jane Monheit and became known as an expert vocal accompanist, but he also started to develop an experimental streak in his own music. His first album as a leader, Mirror (2006), received a “Critics Pick” in the New York Times, who called it “a work of sustained collectivity as well as deep intricacy.” His second album, Generations (2009), was described by pianist Vijay Iyer in Artforum as “the sonic equivalent of Escher or Borges, but with real emotional heft.” His next album, Figurations, was selected as one of the New York Times top ten albums of 2012, described by Ben Ratliff as “slowly evolving puzzles of brilliant jazz logic.”
Okazaki subsequently entered a period of focused guitar study, which resulted in the book Fundamentals of Guitar, published by Mel Bay in 2015. When he began to compose again, he went at it from a fresh perspective, placing greater emphasis on guitar playing and improvisation. Steve Coleman describes Okazaki’s development during this period: Miles has always been a very intense cat. Ive always been impressed with his perseverance and how deep he gets into his research. When he first came to me years ago, all he wanted to talk about was conceptual stuff, but now that hes internalized it, it just comes out organically. You can really hear that in his playing now. For his new music, Okazaki decided to use Anthony Tidd on bass and Sean Rickman on drums, the long-running rhythmic engine and his bandmates in Steve Coleman and Five Elements, with whom he has performed with hundreds of times. Its a fascinating opportunity to hear their unique chemistry — the quicksilver ability to process and internalize complex information, transform musical material
Through improvisation, and do it all while staying “in the pocket” — in a wholly different context. Both Tidd and Rickman have deep roots in funk, R&B, and hip hop, and it is fascinating to hear Okazaki’s music through the filter of these musical sensibilities. Okazaki’s next call went to pianist Craig Taborn, perhaps the most widely-admired pianist on the cutting-edge of jazz, who brings a supremely inventive musical sense to everything he plays. Together they have created a breakthrough statement by Okazaki, a unified book of compositions that grooves from beginning to end.