Every country has their Renaissance man: someone who seems to be able to reach unknown heights in whatever they turn their hand to; and if someone was to designate such a prize for Japan, he would be Akira Sakata. Sakata is stopped in the street by ladies of all ages: they know him as the host of daytime shows; they know him as a renowned scientist famed for his knowledge of water fleas; men of all ages stop him: they know him as the host of nighttime shows; they saw him in a recent film; he took on Grace Jones on a Seiko watch. But this happens out in the open, under the sunlight; but when night comes and the haunts visited become darker, and most likely underground, Sakata is revered as the most powerful alto saxophonist to ever come out of Japan. Starting with the Yosuke Yamashita trio in the 70’s through journeys as far-out as Mongolia, Sakata’s sax has been a blistering galvanizing force that has burned undimmed from the first explosion of free jazz through all it’s permutations and back again. No matter how primed, how pumped, how ready for action a musician might feel they are, as soon as Sakata hits his first note, they are pummeled and thrown for a loop. Not many people can walk casually onstage while Peter Brotzmann, Ken Vandermark, and Mats Gustafsson are in full tilt, casually lift his sax to his mouth, and with his first note, knock those 3 pairs of eyes open wide in shock. But, Akira Sakata can.
by Jim O’Rourke