By Derek Taylor
Drawing a decisive bead on Kokotob isn’t as easy as it might seem. Chamber jazz in the spirit of the Jimmy Giuffre 3’s is one readily discernable referent, but the fifty-minutes of music comprising Flying Heart crosses many other musical mile posts. Vibraphonist Taiko Saito, pianist Niko Meinhold and clarinetist Tobias Schirmer aren’t in the business of rushing their respective hands and the organized sounds they create together are steeped in a shared primacy placed on anticipatory and responsive listening. Thoughtful and picturesque exploration wins out repeatedly over volume and intensity.
Taiko and Meinhold contribute the majority of compositions with eight between them and Schirmer bringing just two, but the clarinetist is an equal participant in the offing of each of the program’s pieces. Meinhold’s “Wellen” is an immersive exercise in carefully calibrated dynamics as Schirmer’s bass clarinet circles and veers around a shimmering ostinato set up by the calmly bustling mallets and keys of his colleagues. The degree of porous pathos generated in the rising and receding color field swiftly becomes striking, lodging in the memory lobe well after the players have come to a closely-choreographed rest.
“Origami im Gorlitzer Park” is the first of several pieces to show the trio’s softer side as Saito dials the motor affixed to her planks down to a hollow resonating ring and Meinhold and Schirmer unfurl a comely melody that floats and disperses. Raspy breath sounds add slivers of dissonance alongside bowed metal, but the lullaby-like spell remains unbroken thanks to lushly anchoring piano chords. Saito’s “Komodo No Kodomo” adds marimba to the mix and the instrument’s softer acoustics suit the revolving raga-like motif that serves as the tune’s energy source perfectly in a performance that brings to mind artists as disparate as Keith Jarrett and Tangerine Dream.
An ostinato also serves as fulcrum on Saito’s “Etude in Eb”, Meinhold and the composer setting up a latticed rhythmic structure for Schirmer’s licorice stick to extemporize across. Schirmer’s volatile “Bikkuri” features tightly wound bursts of staccato activity with the composer at his most loquacious and Saito and Meinhold lobbing irregular contrapuntal obstacles freely. “Korokoro” builds from another circular terraced edifice as a feature for Schirmer’s bass clarinet at its most nakedly poignant. Chamber jazz isn’t always an easy sell these days, but Kokotob has the goods worth procurement.