Originally published in The NYC Jazz Record, February 2022
1) Open Question, Open Question, Vol. 1 (577)
2) Pause & Effect, Attitude! (ESP-Disk)
Tenor saxophonist Ayumi Ishito first came to the attention of this writer several years ago at the debut performance of Attitude!, prior to that band actually having a proper name, but the Japanese-born Berklee grad has been residing in New York for nearly a dozen years. Formal tutelage with George Garzone and certainly less than rigid mentorship by downtown’s own Daniel Carter has seen her working with a wide range of like-minded spirits and leading her own ensembles. And in spite of the silences, divisions and closures shrouded in covid fallout, Ishito has remained vital, garnering only more due attention.
Open Question is one of those projects Daniel Carter has thrived in lo these many years. Equal parts young and old(er), east and west, blue, cool, hip and caustic, with some Prince Street wail, and a deep-listening sort of improvisation included. His multiple woods and brass along with Ishito’s tenor soars through four works recorded in a Brooklyn studio late in 2020; just another pick-up gig? NO. The band demonstrates a damned amazing ability to play utterly free over varying arrangements and dynamics as if reading charts of through-composed music. Shades of In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, even Kind of Blue with handfuls of Houston Street and Coltrane tossed into the mix. Things start immediately in this direction with “Blues”, in which the front line wraps itself around a wildly expanded blues form. “Dimly-lit Platform”, a delectable piece, is flute-driven, wreaking of mysterioso and noir, not simply film noir but the still earlier novels; think Dashiell Hammett and Cornell Woolrich. A quiet restlessness akin to a soaked, steaming mattress in an airless bedroom of 1930s’ Lower East Side is felt throughout and Ishito’s tradition-haunted tenor, reedy and dark, bores new tonalities through Carter’s floating melody. “Confidential BBQ”, the next cut, seems more like a second movement of the former title as it retains the shadowy vibe, albeit over double-time groove. Here, her tenor is again matched by Carter’s flute and muted trumpet, and the clouded rhythm section—upright bassist Zach Swanson and drummer Jon Pannikar—glides, smokes and burns at mezzo-piano. Mid-way through, this moves into early electric Miles’ way, Erik Plaks’ pointed Wurlitzer commands the swarming thicket like a latter-day Zawinul, particularly against Carter’s muted trumpet. This is brilliant, lasting music. I can hardly wait for Vol. 2.
Another side of Ishito is demonstrated on Attitude’s Pause and Effect, based around the revolutionary spoken word of poet Rose Tang who on this album doubles on electric guitar, piano and percussion. Her trio with Ishito and drummer Wen-Ting Wu stands out as not only as—by intent--all-female, but all-Asian, and from varying parts of the east. Tang, the Brooklyn-based journalist and survivor of 1989’s Tiananmen Square uprising, has been experimenting with improvisational music over several years and brought this band together as part of her statements against sexism and anti-Asian hate and the struggle of Hong Kong against mainland China’s military rule. “I’m not a China doll, I’m not your geisha…I’m not Yoko Ono…I AM ME”, Tang exclaims in righteous anger over burning, far-reaching free music. “Gimme a Mic” and “Who Flung Dung” are radical calls to order, shouted, demanded and specified as poetic free jazz. But listen, too, for the gravity of “Flames with No Names” and Ishito’s spiritual horn claiming Coltrane’s “Alabama” for the cause as Tang meditates on the rapes, the pillages, the theft of women. “You can never beat us. You can kill us, but you can never kill all of us”, she states. “This is your last hurrah…”. Wu’s fluid, rapid-fire mallets on tom-toms conjure the imagery of Asian folk music as easily as Ed Blackwell. And the fiery propulsion of “8 Steps/7 O’Clock”, with Ishito’s sinewy, ‘80s-inspired head, let alone the lengthy “Conversation” (nearly 25 minutes in length) are so steeped in the Fire Music tradition that listeners may be assume these to be lost cuts by John Zorn or Alice Coltrane, respectively. Not bad company.
1) Open Question, Open Question, Vol. 1 (577) – “Blues”, “Dimly-Lit Platform”, Confidential BBQ”, Synchronicity”
Daniel Carter-trumpet, flute, clarinet, soprano, alto, tenor saxophones / Ayumi Ishito-tenor saxophone, FX / Erik Plaks-piano, Wurlitzer / Zach Swanson-acoustic bass / Jon Panikkar-drums
2) Attitude!, Pause and Effect (ESP-Disk) – “Gimme a Mic”, “Who Flung Dung”, “Flames with No Names”, “8 Steps/7 O’Clock”, “Conversation”
Rose Tang-voice, electric guitar, piano, percussion / Ayumi Ishito-tenor saxophone, voice / Wen-Ting Wu-drums, voice