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Naoko Sakata (Sweden) – Improvisation #9 (track shared from forthcoming album)

I noticed the ‘proms’ season has started on the BBC so it’s a good time to include a ‘classical’ track for a change although there is a lot more to tonight’s subject when you did a little.

Other factors that attracted me to Gothenburg-based Naoko Sakata include that each of the tracks on her album are improvised as it says on the tin – she makes no plans before the recording; her work is inspired by no other human but by tarot, especially The Star and The Chariot cards; that she throws her own voice into the music occasionally as an instrumental implement rather than a vocal one (as she does on this track); and that her album will be released on Anna von Hausswolff’s label Pomperipossa Records next month. I find Ms von Hausswolff to be a somewhat perplexing individual but there is no denying the musical quality of anything associated with her.

But I suppose the biggest draw is the claim in the press release that Naoko’s “wild, expressive pieces of genre-less piano playing are unlike anything you’ve likely heard before.”

This is the second track from her forthcoming new album ‘Infinity’; set for release on September 8th (the tracks aren’t numbered sequentially).

She describes playing as being “mystic” for her,” adding that while she was doing her improvising questions such as “why do we live?” and “why do I play?”, would pop into her mind and the questions turned into music that “just flows out of me.” She concludes, “I have my own frequency that becomes music.”

So let’s go with the flow.

Professional musicians at this level often intrigue me. The first 10 seconds or so of this piece sound like a child practicing their scales at their first piano lesson. I don’t know what the significance of that is but it quickly settles down into what fluctuates between gentle toccata and the serious low end and intense banging of repetitive chords that you would associate with a prog rock keyboardist, someone like Emerson.

I lack the formal vocabulary to describe it with any greater clarity do I’ll do what I normally do, which is to visualise it in terms of a movie or TV soundtrack. Imagine you’re lost in a maze, the tension rising, and you are desperate to get out before sundown….because that’s when they come out to play.

I can’t possibly know if those notions popped into her mind or anything like them while she was playing the piece but if a producer had asked her to create that image she couldn’t have done it any better.

The way she plays will immediately suggest to you that she is highly individualistic. Her mother was a piano teacher and she has played the piano since she was three, but never wanted to read music. Instead, she learned it by heart.

 From that young age she understood there was a place within reach where she and her musical ideas were not separate, and which she wanted to channel, but her parents and teachers had other ideas. She rejected the confinement of the expectations placed on her, and walked her own path, did it her way, a decision which was often interpreted as rebellious and at one stage her self-expression through the way she dressed led to her having to leave school.

She moved into jazz to look for freer modes of playing, but, surprisingly perhaps, found the same conventions and imitative performances as she had found in classical music. It wasn’t until she left Japan and moved to Sweden, settling in Gothenburg that her unique, free-form improvisational playing could start to emerge.

If you think about it she might be the Courtney Love, Janis Joplin or Poly Styrene of the piano. A classical, wordless, titleless, RiotGrrl who speaks through the precision, passion, emotion and authenticity of her playing.

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