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Two’s a Crowd: Dan Weiss and Miles Okazaki at Hawks & Reed

The duo recording just released by drummer Dan Weiss and guitarist Miles Okazaki, has been 20 years in the making. That’s how long these two middle-age masters have been keeping musical company. Their tour in support of a new release, Music for Drums and Guitar, kicked off on Wednesday, December 1 at Hawks & Reed in Greenfield, MA.


Although Weiss, 44, and Okazaki, 46, have performed as a duo, played in each other’s bands and been featured on each other’s recordings since the beginning of their careers, this is the first time they have recorded as a twosome. The rapport they have established since they met at the Manhattan School of Music was readily apparent to 65 lucky listeners swept away for over an hour.

The music unfolded in great spools of sound that carried this listener on a shifting bed of melody and cross-rhythms. They performed two pieces, Okazaki’s “The Memory Palace”, which took up the first part of the show, and Weiss’ “MiddleGame”, which concluded the concert. That’s the same format as their double-LP and single CD that serves as the debut release on their new label, Cygnus Recordings.


Each piece had recurring themes and motifs that morphed constantly, but rooted us and gave us our bearings. Okazaki’s composition had blues and rock elements, but there were hints of Brazilian rhythms and swing woven in, as well as periods of profound indeterminacy. Weiss’s written contribution was built upon a couple of simple melodies that regularly changed tempo and rhythmic feel. I heard allusions to Indian music, which makes sense given his fluency on tabla. All evening, I had the sensation of existing in a constant state of “in-between”, betwixt unnamed grooves, holding multiple musical truths at the same time. It was a nice place to be.


There was intermittent applause, but the only interruption was by Okazaki just past the half-way mark to thank us for being there, introduce themselves and to attribute the compositions. Otherwise, it was all flow.


There was a high degree of anticipation and connectivity between the performers, making this more than just a recital by two very talented musicians. This was an actual band, albeit a very small one. Okazaki wove bass lines into his playing, using his thumb to play the bass strings while playing the melody on the higher strings using his other fingers. He also used pedals to maintain a drone or otherwise add to the sound mix.We didn’t actually miss a double-bass. And Weiss played the drums with melody in mind, creating “tunes” on his toms and lessening the need for a second melody instrument. There were sections that displayed the two’s obvious virtuosity, but in the main, their chops were not the primary attraction; what drew us in was their rapport and the musical logic unfurled over the course of the night.


Weiss and Okazaki are in full creative ascendency. Not surprisingly, they are both associated with Pi Recordings, which produces some of today’s most consequential music. (Saxophonist and composer Anna Webber, who also records for Pi, was in attendance.)


Okazaki leads a great quartet called Trickster, recently recorded the complete works of Thelonious Monk for solo guitar, and is an accomplished educator at the University of Michigan and Princeton. (One of his prized students, trumpeter Davy Lazar, was also in attendance.)


Weiss has a forward leaning 14-piece ensemble that has made two critically acclaimed recordings, while his newest project, Starebaby, blends metallic jazz, prog and post-rock. He has studied tabla with Pandit Samir Chatterjee for 25 years and recorded Indian classical music on both tabla and drumset.


Dan Weiss and Miles Okazaki are serious players and thinkers, poised to create at a high level for decades to come. We’re glad to be in their orbit.

Marty Ehrlich, extraordinary reed player, music scholar, storyteller and friend, returned to the Connecticut River Valley on December 16 to perform with his trio at the Blue Room in Easthampton, MA. T

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