Downtown Music Gallery | Heat – 1998-99 | Between Reflections – 2019 (2CD SET)

By Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG

BREW features Miya Masaoka on koto, electronics & monochord, Reggie Workman on contrabass, percussion, musical saw & didgeridoo and Gerry Hemingway on drums, vibes, voice & electronics. I recall a gig by the Reggie Workman Ensemble at the Old Knitting Factory in the early 1990’s and the personnel included Marilyn Crispell, Don Byron, Gerry Hemingway & others. The group played two long sets that night and I remember being blown away by it. Both discs from this two CD set were recorded around 20 years apart. Disc One was recorded at two places: 2 tracks from Tedesco Studio (in NJ) in the winter of 1998 and the rest of the tracks from the Old Knitting Factory in November of 1999. This is an extraordinary trio of gifted improvisers who like to add electronics and/or percussion to their main instrument. Although Miya Masaoka studied traditional koto music earlier in life, she has long been experimenting with the koto as well as playing a custom-made electronic koto which has lights instead of strings. Ms. Masaoka plays both koto & electronics on Disc 1 with Mr. Workman on bass & percussion and Mr. Hemingway on drums & electronics. On the first piece, “Keffi’s Journey”, the trio erupts with a blast of furious intensity. Masaoka keeps varying her approach between quick picking, rubbing the strings with a utensil and bowing furiously as well. Legendary bassist Reggie Workman is at the center of the storm plucking and bowing as if his life depended on it. Although Ms. Masaoka’s koto sounds like it is coming from an Eastern culture and Mr. Workman’s bass is coming from a more western/jazz culture, both players are never bound by any barriers. Mr. Hemingway is a perfect partner here as he is always balancing various creative worlds: jazz, rhythmic, free, ethnic, progressive always listening and finding the common ground between the three strong forces here. In each piece Ms. Masaoka seems to be telling a story with her koto, evoking different scenes. One of the things that makes Mr. Hemingway unique is when he takes a drum solo,he has a most distinctive approach which often moves into some unexpected detours. There a few sections where Ms. Masaoka starts to pic her koto in a furious rhythmic way while Mr. Hemingway locks in with her whiplash lines while Mr. Workman provides that bass pulse underneath. Around 20 years later, the same BREW trio recorded in a studio in Brooklyn in November of 2019. For this sessions each member of the trio has expanded the palette of instruments: Ms. Masaoka adding a monochord (dan bau) to her koto, with Mr. Workman adding musical saw, didgeridoo to his bass and Mr. Hemingway adding vibes & voice to his drums. This studio date is especially well recorded. Disc two begins with “Between Reflections” which is slower, more calm and sparse. Ms. Masaoka’s koto sounds even larger here as she strums intensely at times. The trio play a blues song of sorts on “Cutting by the Pound” with Workman’s bass groove at the center and Ms. Masaoka’s bowing (?) her koto in an odd bluesy fashion. When things slow down here, all three musicians take their time to explore certain techniques and textures. On “Sun Shadows”, time slows down and the sounds become more haunting. It sounds as if Ms. Masaoka’s koto or monochord is evoking an ancient spirit wandering through a graveyard with some slow dancing ghosts floating together. I like the overall cerebral, suspense-filled vibe here which makes me feel as if I entered a fictional world which exists inside all of us with evolving imaginations. BREW is one of the finest of all Improvised/Free/Beyond Category ensembles, check them out and go along for their unique journey.


+ There are no comments

Add yours