Guitarist Miles Okazaki has spent the better part of the last decade as a member of Steve Coleman’s boundary-stretching band Five Elements, and carries that same venturesome spirit into his new album, Trickster (Pi). Miles Okazaki’s first leader release in five years, the album features the Five Elements rhythm section of bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Sean Rickman along with the alwaysinventive pianist Craig Taborn. Inspired by the mythical figures that subvert society through clever ruses and mischief, Trickster combines intellect and surprise to similar ends, as Okazaki explained over the phone while waiting on a delayed flight.— Shaun Brady
What about the idea of the trickster inspired you?
Tricksters are mythical figures that open things up. They work around borders and on the margins of society,which is where musicians often find themselves. It has to do with the role of musicians in society. Tricksters offer a way to get out of your normal life, and often it involves breaking the rules or saying that just because everyone’s doing things a certain way doesn’t mean it has to be that way.
Steve Coleman has long drawn on extra-musical influences. What’s been his impact on your approach?
I sought him out because I was interested in certain approaches to making music, and I could see he had gone very far in that. So rather than reinventing the wheel I thought I’d get together with him and pick his brain a bit, and that’s turned into a rather long relationship. There’s a musical influence in terms of language and style, but the greater influence is probably in terms of process and rigor.
Why carry Anthony Tidd and Sean Rickman over from Five Elements for your quartet?
I was thinking about records like Sonny Rollins’ East Broadway Run Down with Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison,where you hear a rhythm section that’s usually associated with a certain person, in that case John Coltrane, in a different context. Tidd and Sean actually haven’t been recorded that much together outside of Steve’s band, but these rhythm sections have a special thing that can be interesting in different contexts.
The album cover is striking, rendering trickster figures in origami form.
I’d been making these little figures for my kids to play with. In origami, there are very strict rules; you have one square piece of paper, you can’t cut it. That’s very similar to the rules I made for these compositions. They had to have an extreme simplicity to them in terms of the materials used. The final product can be complex, in the way that those figures are complex-looking, but the actual form of what you start with is very simple.