Aki Ishiguro Presents Rhetoric
Aki Ishiguro may not be a familiar sounding name when it comes to rising star American jazz guitarists.
However, with the release of his debut CD, things may be about to change. Born in Fukushima, Japan, Aki Ishiguro moved with his family to the U.S. when he was ten years old. He attended school in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. Naturally inclined toward music, Ishiguro began lessons in guitar, trumpet, and piano. By the time he reached high school, it became obvious that his principle instrument was the guitar. Exhibiting remarkable talent, by 2002, Ishiguro was accepted—with a scholarship, no less—to the esteemed Berklee College of Music, where he graduated with a dual majors, attaining degrees in Performance and Jazz Composition. No easy stint.
While at Berklee, Ishiguro had the honor of playing and studying with Mick Goodrick, Hal Crook, George Garzone, Joe Lovano and many others venerable teachers. He then performed in Portugal with the Jeff Davis Quartet at the Valdo Dos Frades Jazz Festival and recently did a tour in Costa Rica with a trio. Ishiguro currently works with two principle ensembles, his jazz band, Rhetoric, and his rock outfit, Lucius.
Rhetoric’s debut album was released in the last quarter of 2008 with all eight tunes penned by Ishiguro, playing electric guitar. Joining their talented bandleader is Nick Falk behind the drums, Pascal Niggenkemper, playing acoustic bass and Chris Ward on tenor saxophone. Joining the nimble quartet are guests Sean Wayland on keyboards, along with Joe Albano and Alex Terrier, both playing soprano saxophone.
Ishiguro and his Rhetoric ensemble waste no time in staking out their musical territory with the opening track, “Release.” Distinctively modern, with more than a wink and a nod toward be- and post-bop, as well as flirting with avant-garde, the quartet steams into a fast-paced triple-metered groove. Like the gifted French/Vietnamese guitarist/composer, Nguyên Lê often does in terms of orchestration, Ishiguro presents the main motif with his electric guitar doubling the melody line playing in the same octave as the alto saxophone. After the main theme is stated, first to step into the solo spotlight is Ishiguro, who leaves no room for doubt that he’s a force to be reckoned with, playing an edgy sounding guitar with almost a bad-boy rocker tone. However, his melodic and harmonic vocabulary is clearly conversant in modern jazz. With hints of Allan Holdsworth, Nguyên Lê, Mike Stern, John Scofield and other talented six-stringers, Ishiguro’s guitar playing is indeed impressive. About midway through the tune, he hands the solo over to saxman Chris Ward (who now his own solo album out). Ward is obviously another talented cat, ably answering his bandleader’s call to do some heavy be-bop influenced blowing. Smooth jazz, this decidedly is not.
“Lullaby,” as its title evinces, is more down-tempo, but nonetheless retains a semblance of bravado found in the opening track. Ishiguro’s solo cavorts between diatonic motifs, sometimes playing Asian-sounding pentatonic lines, and hop-scotching to more outside passages. Sean Wayland’s electric piano solo is also noteworthy, as is the bold tonality of the keyboard itself. Good orchestration call, Aki. Acoustic bassist Pascal Niggenkemper then comes to foreground with his brief, but well-stated solo.
One of several standout tracks is “Trip to Déjà Vu,” with its odd-metered groove propelled by Ishiguro’s guitar and Wayland’s rhythmic keyboards. The latter’s opening synthesizer solo is a pronounced contrast to acoustic bass and drums, which drive the song with a high-octane pulse. Then it’s tenor saxophone player Chris Ward’s time to soar. Once the woodwind lands, Ishiguro takes flight with his own hot solo; somewhat reminiscent of Lê’s angular jazz riffs (that analogy, in itself, is quite a compliment).
As mentioned earlier, this album isn’t akin to Smooth Jazz or projects by more commercial-sounding veteran bands such as Spyro Gyra, The Rippingtons, or even the more straight ahead Yellowjackets. Most of the music therein owes homage to “headier,” more outside-oriented genres such as be-bop and free jazz, which, in itself, bares credence to young Ishiguro’s obvious talents, as well his band mates’ chops.
For a debut release, this album achieves the goal of introducing audiences to (yet another) impressive jazz talent emerging from the respected halls of Berklee. That Ishiguro is an up- and-coming guitarist of considerable skill, the album leaves little doubt. Curiosity abounds as to what his rock band, Lucius, sounds like. Ishiguro’s compositional craftsmanship also shows much promise. Nevertheless, most of the tunes on the album follow the “standard jazz” format: state the head and main melody line; then go into the solo sections, where various players step into the spotlight; go back and repeat the main melody; and then finish the song. Perhaps future Ishiguro compositions will deviate from this proven, but sometimes tiresome, song structure.