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Okazaki, Miles: The Sky Below (Pi Recordings)

An album of intelligent modern jazz that twists contemporary bop forms through unusual time signatures and highly interactive playing, in the 5th album from composer and bandleader Miles Okazaki, retaining his rhythm section of Anthony Tidd (bass) and Sean Rickman (drums) and here with Matt Mitchell on piano and keys; forward-thinking and embraceable.

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product information:

UPC: 808713008425

Label: Pi Recordings
Catalog ID: Pi 84
Squidco Product Code: 28236

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2019
Country: USA
Packaging: Digipack
Recorded at The Samurai Hotel, in Astoria, New York on June 13th and 14th, 2019, by Mike Marciano and Max Ross, and on June 29th, 2019, by Max Ross.


Miles Okazaki-guitars, electronics

Matt Mitchell-piano, Fender Rhodes, synth

Anthony Tidd-electric bass

Sean Rickman-drums

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Artist Biographies:

"Miles Okazaki is an American musician based in New York City. He is known for his technical command of the guitar, his rhythmic approach to improvisation and composition, and his work in contemporary music theory. Okazaki grew up in Port Townsend, Washington, a small town near the Olympic Mountains in the Pacific Northwest. He got his first classical guitar at age 6, and began playing regular gigs on electric guitar by age 14, after studying for several years at the Centrum Jazz Workshop. He received many awards as a guitarist throughout his early years, and eventually placed 2nd in the Thelonious Monk International Guitar Competition.

Okazaki moved to New York City in 1997 to pursue a career in music and begin writing his own material. His teacher on guitar at this time was Rodney Jones, who recommended him for his first gig, with Stanley Turrentine. Okazaki spent four years on the road with vocalist Jane Monheit, while also writing and rehearsing the music for his first album, Mirror, which was released independently. The album received a "Critics Pick" in the New York Times, calling it "a work of sustained collectivity as well as deep intricacy." He expanded to a septet for his second album, Generations, described by pianist Vijay Iyer "the sonic equivalent of Escher or Borges, but with real emotional heft,". His third album, Figurations, was recorded live with a quartet, and 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." In January of 2016 Okazaki recorded a new album, Trickster, that will be released later this year. Okazaki wrote, produced, and illustrated these albums.

As a sideman, Okazaki works in many areas, ranging from Standard repertoire to experimental music. Recently he has been seen most frequently as the guitarist for Steve Coleman and Five Elements. In the last few years, he has worked with a wide variety of artists including Kenny Barron, Jonathan Finlayson, Amir El Saffar, Adam Rudolph, Dan Weiss, Linda Oh, Darcy James Argue, Jane Monheit, Vijay Iyer, Francois Moutin, Doug Hammond, Carl Allen, Ohad Talmor, Mary Halvorson, John Zorn, Jen Shyu, Mark Giuliana, Patrick Cornelius, Rajna Swaminatham, Matt Mitchell, Craig Taborn, Tony Moreno, Ben Wendel, Donny McCaslin, and many others.

Okazaki currently teaches guitar at the University of Michigan. His first book, Fundamentals of Guitar, was released in 2015. He has also taught at the Banff Institute, The New School, Queens College, The Juilliard School, Amsterdam Conservatory, and many other institutions. Outside of guitar, his past teachers include Anthony Davis (composition), Ganesh Kumar (Carnatic percussion), and Kendall Briggs (counterpoint). His awards and grants include Chamber Music America's "New Works" (2007), Chamber Music America's "French-American Jazz Exchange" (2009), the Jazz Gallery and Jerome Foundations Residency Commission (2010), the American Music Center's Composer Assistance Program (2011), the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation's US Artists International grant (2012), the Rockefeller Brother's Fund Artist Residency (2012), and the Jazz Gallery Mentorship program (2015). He holds degrees from Harvard University, Manhattan School of Music, and The Juilliard School, and lives in Brooklyn, NY."

-Miles Okazaki Website (

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"Matt Mitchell is a pianist and composer interested in the intersections of various strains of acoustic, electric, composed, and improvised new music. He currently composes for and leads several ensembles featuring many of the current foremost musicians and improvisers, including Tim Berne, Kim Cass, Caroline Davis, Kate Gentile, Ben Gerstein, Sylvaine Hélary, Jon Irabagon, Travis Laplante, Ava Mendoza, Miles Okazaki, Ches Smith, Chris Speed, Tyshawn Sorey, Chris Tordini, Anna Webber, Dan Weiss, and Katie Young.

He is an anchor member of several significant creative music ensembles which integrate composed and improvised music, including Tim Berne's Snakeoil, the Dave Douglas Quintet, John Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble, Rudresh Mahanthappa's Bird Calls, Jonathan Finlayson's Sicilian Defense, Dan Weiss's Large Ensemble, Steve Coleman's Natal Eclipse, the Darius Jones Quartet, Kate Gentile's Mannequins, Mario Pavone's Blue Dialect Trio, Anna Webber's Simple Trio, Ches Smith's We All Break, Michael Attias' Spun Tree, Ohad Talmor's Grand Ensemble, and Quinsin Nachoff's Flux. He is also among the core performers of John Zorn's Bagatelles.

Musicians with whom he performs and has performed include Jon Irabagon, Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth, John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet + 1, JD Allen, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Bunky Green's Apex, Rez Abbasi's Invocation, Lee Konitz, Kenny Wheeler, Ralph Alessi's Baida Quartet, Dave King's Indelicate duo, Amir ElSaffar, Marc Ducret, David Torn, Vernon Reid, Clarence Penn and Penn Station, Linda Oh, Rudy Royston, Allison Miller, Donny McCaslin, Brad Shepik, and Darcy James Argue's Secret Society.

He has taught extensively with the Brooklyn-based School for Improvisational Music, as well as at the New School, NYU, and the Siena Jazz Workshop. He is also a 2015 receipient of a Doris Duke Impact Award and a 2012 recipient of a Pew Fellowship from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage."

-Matt Mitchell Website (

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"Anthony Tidd is a composer, producer, audio engineer, educator and musician. He plays bass, guitar and piano/keyboards.

Tidd's musical palette as a composer and performer is diverse. He holds a deep knowledge of jazz, R&B, Hip-hop, classical, and new music, as well as a particular affinity for creative improvisation. Born and raised in the United Kingdom, he has been living and working in the United States since 1997.

He has performed and toured all over the globe with artists such as Steve Coleman, The Roots, MeShell Ndegeocello, +Gang Starr, Geopelle, Common, Greg Osby, Marsha Ambrosius, Bhekki Mseleku, Wayne Krantz, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Steve Williamson, Ari Hoenig, Ursula Rucker and Dap Theory.

Tidd has produced recordings for Jill Scott, Macy Gray, Zap Mama, Lady Gaga, Pink, The Jazzyfatnastees, Ursula Rucker, The Black Eyed Peas, Joy Denalane, and the Grammy Award-winning hip-hop collective The Roots, among others. He has worked with such other artists as Bilal, Soul Asylum, and Erykah Badu. He has composed music for the United Nations, the BBC, American Airlines, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as film & television.

Tidd attended the Newhan Academy of Music in London, Thurrock College of Music, as well as Goldsmiths University of London, where he received a B.A. in Composition & Music technology. As a student, he studied composition, upright and electric bass, piano, music technology, and film scoring. Tidd has taught music and music technology at the Oval House Theatre (London), St. Paul's Way School (London) and has held master classes and collaborated with the London Symphonietta, NYU, U.C Berkley, The Berlin Philharmoniker, The Pavorotti Center (Mostar), Durban University (South Africa), and various others.

His own musical project, Quite Sane's last release, entitled "The Child of Troubled Times" has garnered critical acclaim. Tidd currently curates "Sittin' In Jam Sessions," a performance series at the Kimmel Center For The Performing Arts in Philadelphia, where he also serves as director of the Creative Music Program, A position he has held since 2010."

-Pi Recordings (

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"Sean Rickman (born October 16, 1970) is an American drummer, vocalist, guitarist, bassist, songwriter, producer and recording artist from Washington, DC.

He is best known for his work with Shawn Lane, Garaj Mahal, Dapp Theory, Steve Coleman, Maxwell, Meshell Ndegeocello, Blacksheep, Phil Upchurch, David Fiucynski & Screaming Headless Torsos, Kai Eckhardt, Anthony Tidd's Quite Sane, K'Alyn, Angela Bofill and George Duke.

Rickman was lead singer and drummer for Garaj Mahal from 2007-2011 and currently his DC Rock band Big Mouth featuring guitarist Leonard Stevens. He was also featured alongside Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Marcus Miller on the Tribute To Miles 2011 tour.

Currently Rickman tours and records with alto saxophonist Steve Coleman, bassist Kai Eckhardt, guitarist Miles Okazaki and others. He dedicates most of his off road time to his instructional site. Rickman releases self produced albums under his artist name The Rick performing all the vocals and all the instruments. He is developing live performances as the frontman of his power trio."

-Wikipedia (

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track listing:

1. Rise And Shine 4:25

2. Dog Star 6:26

3. Anthemoessa 4:15

4. Seven Sisters 4:58

5. Monstropolous 2:44

6. The Castaway 5:31

7. The Lighthouse 6:39

8. To Dream Again 5:37
sample the album:

descriptions, reviews, &c.

"The Sky Below is guitarist Miles Okazaki‘s fifth album of original compositions, and his second album for Pi Recordings. It is a sequel to Trickster, which was widely extolled and landed on many year-end lists of 2017 including Popmatters (“a mature work for the ages”) and the Los Angeles Times (“immersive, groove-heavy and ultimately immediate”). The album was described by the New York Times as “tenacious futurism,” by The Wall Street Journal as “a true concept album,” and by Pitchfork as “obviously complex, the work of virtuosi. But the resulting beauty is easy to appreciate.” The album received critics’ picks in both Downbeat and JazzTimes, who called it “an intellectually hefty album that feels weightless” and “a real breakthrough.”

The Sky BelowThe Sky Below

Trickster marked the beginning of a new approach to composition for Okazaki, one that is focused on mythology and storytelling and concerned primarily with narrative flow. He describes this inspiration in the liner notes for Trickster: “The trickster figure is an ancient archetype in human folklore. They are creative in nature, using mischief and magic to disrupt the state of things, breaking taboos and conventions, opening doorways. They exist outside of the mainstream, working from the margins, creating movement across the borders. They cause damage and they heal. They are storytellers and improvisers.”

The Sky BelowThe Sky Below

The Sky Below adds a new chapter to the Trickster story, this time based on the classic form of an oceanic voyage. The music follows the Trickster character as it crosses a boundary (“Rise and Shine”), enters the unknown (“Dog Star”), visits magical islands (“Anthemoessa” and “Seven Sisters”), is caught in a storm (“Monstropolous”), abandoned (“The Castaway”), and finds a way home (“The Lighthouse”). The album closes with a microtonal lullaby (“To Dream Again”). Okazaki writes in the liner notes: “If Trickster was the introduction to the characters, the songs on this album are their children, bearing their features but finding their own way. The flight of the Trickster moves across the threshold into the magic world, traverses sea and sky, visits ancient islands, is tested in the tempest, is abandoned, and returns with stories to tell. The titles and themes of the compositions are borrowed from writings about the Sea, the endless source of symbolism involving mystery, creation, and terrible power.” (Detailed explanations of the titles can be found at

The Sky BelowThe Sky Below

For these songs, Okazaki took each of the compositions from Trickster, reduced them to their basic components, and rewrote new compositions from this genetic material to carry on the story to a new generation with symbolic and sonic continuity. As with much of Okazaki’s music, the movement is created with a variety of rhythmic structures and illusions with the focus always on groove and rhythmic feel as a storytelling vehicle.

The Sky BelowThe Sky Below

The material for The Sky Below was developed while touring with a new version of the Trickster band, a quartet of Okazaki on guitar, Matt Mitchell (taking over for Craig Taborn, who appeared on the first album) on piano, Anthony Tidd on electric bass, and Sean Rickman on drums. Okazaki got a sense of Mitchell’s skill set after working for several years on the material for the latter’s Phalanx Ambassadors (Pi 2019) album. He describes Mitchell’s role in the band: “Matt can do certain things on the fly, like generative improvising from cells and transformations, which is important for these tunes. He can play in a way that totally avoids “licks” – it’s a very pure sound that gives you a lot of options as a composer. Like the song “The Lighthouse,” which is a just a version of a standard, but his approach is oblique enough that it avoids showing all the cards.” The team of Anthony Tidd and Sean Rickman form a seamless rhythmic foundation for the band. Okazaki began playing with them in saxophonist Steve Coleman’s Five Elements. Together, they demonstrate the balancing act of negotiating abstract musical information while maintaining an unstoppable rhythmic drive.

The Sky BelowThe Sky Below

The album is also informed by an intense period of compositional study that Okazaki undertook in creating WORK, a six-album solo guitar recording of the complete compositions of Thelonious Monk that he released in August 2018. It was the first time the entire songbook had been recorded on a solo instrument, and the project received much critical praise, landing on more than a dozen best-of-2018 lists, including the New York Times, which called it “a monumental statement of devotion.” WBGO described it as “an act of immersive scholarship and exhaustive scope… a singular achievement,” and NPR’s Fresh Air called it “heroic” and “epic.” The Sky Below is a direct result of Okazaki’s extreme exploration of Monk’s vision: In trying to create the symbolic system of the Trickster recordings, Okazaki went back to the well of the great composer for inspiration for how to create an idiosyncratic sonic world of his own.

The Sky BelowThe Sky Below

The Sky Below marks the first time that Okazaki has used guitar effects on his own albums since his debut release, MIRROR, in 2006. He is known primarily for possessing a clean acoustic sound played on the Gibson ES-175 Charlie Christian that he has used for the last 25 years. But here, he utilizes five different guitars to continually shift the sonic impression. Recent work with producer/guitarist David Torn on Mitchell’s Phalanx Ambassadors and tours with guitarist Mary Halvorson’s quartet playing the music of John Zorn informed the types of effects used, and the quarter tone guitar used on “To Dream Again” was built for work with Amir ElSaffar’s “Rivers of Sound” project. In order further expand the sound, Okazaki also invented several virtual instruments in Pure Data, a visual computer programming language. Rather than using commercial software, Okazaki painstakingly designed the programs using the same musical concepts as the compositions themselves. He improvised on these instruments to create raw musical material that was then fed through the Prophet-6 with Matt Mitchell manipulating the sounds in real time. This is heard most explicitly on track that begins the second half of the album, “Monstropolous.” With its carefully-crafted narrative structure and expansive use of studio techniques, The Sky Below evokes the fathomless depths of the sea, both familiar and strange."-Pi Recordings

Related Categories of Interest:

Improvised Music
Free Improvisation
NY Downtown & Metropolitan Jazz/Improv
Quartet Recordings
Melodic and Lyrical Jazz
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