Andrea Centazzo, with Akira Sakata and Kiyoto Fujiwara – Bridges (2012; 2013 reissue)

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In a happy accident last May — the result of a last minute cancellation — Italian percussion legend Andrea Centazzo suddenly found himself on stage with two of Japan’s premier improvisers: woodwinds master Akira Sakata (of the Yousuke Yamashita Trio) and virtuosic bassist Kiyoto Fujiwara. In a benefit concert benefitting the children victimized by the great Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, Centazzo devised five performances on the spot with two men he never met before in an event that was truly unpremeditated. And the more spontaneous the setting, the more the true improvisers thrive.

That’s just how it turned out for this instant Italian/Japanese avant jazz supergroup, who spent a thrill-packed thirty-four minutes through five discreet performances while mostly ignoring unwritten rules about how a jazz trio is supposed to perform together. With the exception of being in tune with each other; that’s the one guideline they followed and the only one that matters, anyway.

Centazzo, with his vast array of percussion instruments and a kat mallet, always seems to know just levers to pull at any given moment, pivoting from rumbling around to match — even anticipate — the sudden note chases by Sakata, strategically placing gong sounds to provide a touch of majesty to the cacophony, or even squeaky toys to lighten the mood. Fujiwara also uses many of the weapons at his disposal, too, beginning the first three performances with a bow that often assumes the role of a second horn. When he puts down the bow on “Bridge #1,” he’s strumming his standup bass like a guitar. When he plucks the bass, it’s the right pulse for putting the punctuation in Sakata’s sentences.

Sakata is most conspicuous of the three; his alto sax or clarinet can stand still in exploratory moments and without warning, he’s running through rapid excursions perilously close along the edge. What’s even more remarkable is how the other two respond immediately and follow him through all his sudden pursuits of whimsy. On “Bridge #4,” he puts down his horns and uses his ample voice like a horn: moaning, chanting and hollering with a resonance just as powerful as what he achieves with instruments made of brass, wood and reeds.

“Bridge #5” is the oddity of the bunch simply by being the most conventional. Alongside an actual bass walk and 4/4 pulse, Sakata plays a tortured, blues drenched alto sax. But as those aching cries turn into screams, he inserts fractured quotes from “Stella By Starlight” all throughout his quavering solo. One of the most devastating inside/outside performances I’ve heard, ever.

The 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami was tumultuous in a horrible way; Centazzo, Sakata and Fujiwara’s response to that is by being tumultuous in a positive way. Originally released in limited quantities by Centazzo’s Ictus Records, Bridges is now available again. A chance encounter like this one deserves the encore.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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