The Miyumi Project Big Band - Best Of The Miyumi Project / 2CD set
Creative music has historically provided a platform for uniting its participants, not only relying on but encouraging individuals with unique backgrounds and disparate traditions. It is a universal language that allows for constructive discourse with everyone on equal footing. Witnessing the dialogue between musicians spontaneously creating on the spot is quite literally the democratic process in action. So, with the turmoil of the U.S. political environment and democracy at stake, where better to turn than to someone who sets by example, with inclusiveness and a democratic approach and concept for creativity being priorities.
Enter bassist Tatsu Aoki’s The MIYUMI Project, one of the first Asian American / African American collaborative music projects in Chicago, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary. Since the release of the eponymously titled The MIYUMI Project, the group has forged a special Afro-Asian musical hybrid in the intervening two decades, successfully fusing the Japanese taiko drumming tradition with first class improvisers (many from Chicago, where Aoki has been based since the late ‘70s). And to celebrate and commemorate this trailblazing, still active band, we now have this outstanding release with cherry-picked selections from MIYUMI's vast discography including a previously unreleased live bonus track.
During the ‘70s Aoki was an underground Tokyo experimental artist interested in the American avant garde and influenced by a fascinating cross-section of bassists - from Charles Mingus and the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Malachi Favors, to rock ‘n rollers such as Kenny Gradney (Little Feat), John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) and Dee Murray (Elton John). Moving to the U.S. from his native Japan in 1977, eventually to Chicago in 1979, he would work extensively with Windy City tenor saxophone legend Fred Anderson. In 1997 Aoki’s collaboration in the Power Trio (At Unity Temple, Asian Improv) with two members of the lauded AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) – woodwind specialist Mwata Bowden (one of Aoki’s longest musical associations) and drummer/percussionist Afifi Phillard (Sun Ra alumnus and Aoki mentor) - marked the unofficial inception of his MIYUMI concept.
The MIYUMI Project was named after the bassist’s third child. “Every time my kid was born, I made an album for each of them,” said Aoki, “but when Miyumi was born, instead of producing an album for her, I named the whole band after her because you know how immigrant families come to America and you sort of have this identity debate about who you are: the longer you stay you become an American, and eventually – in my case - you become Asian-American. By the time she was born I realized my family was now post-war immigrant Japanese American / Asian American. So to commemorate that awakening and awareness I named the whole band with this concept.” From the group’s first album the taiko drumming influence was an undeniable element, Aoki infusing Japanese-influenced aesthetics of accompaniment within the rhythm section, carrying his concept of time into, through and underneath the music as an essential and, as importantly, natural thread. An integral part of his rhythm section, Aoki as bassist has shown empathy towards the drum traditions of Japanese taiko and jazz, and his music and approach incorporates the drummer languages of each. From the group’s first album he plays bass and taiko drum on “Early Dance”, sharing an otherworldly ethnic influence with Bowden playing didgeridoo, double-reed specialist Robbie Hunsinger on the Chinese shenai, Hide Yoshihashi on taiko drum and Paul Kim on Korean buk drum. (Elsewhere on the group’s debut recording the taiko influence is further intensified by Patti Adachi on taiko and Yoshihashi on shime, a high-pitched, small Japanese drum).
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