Akira Sakata & Jim O’Rourke “5 月​ (May)”

This live recording made me far more emotional than I expected it to, but it has a real understated power. Akira Sakata and Jim O’Rourke have played together many times, but as far as I know this is the first duo recording that’s been released. Both are masters of their craft, but something special unfolds over these 45+ minutes that will leave you spent with a heart full of joy.

5月​ (​May) opens with Sakata’s gentle, heartfelt coos while O’Rourke quietly plies in the background. As things slowly heat up, O’Rourke’s playing gets a little louder while Sakata starts shooting sparks, illuminating opener “早春賦 (sousyunーhu)” with a shower of blistering heat. Teeming with emotion, a last gasp of sunlight in a darkening room, there’s a reckoning as Sakata’s flurry of runs bring the roof caving in while O’Rourke scrawls away, watching in awe with the rest of us. There’s something so defiant and heart wrenching in the ferocity and precision that Sakata employs; a last stand against all odds, declaring that he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. I love how O’Rourke is absolutely shredding by the end, too, but still leaving the bulk of space for the sax to just go off. An unbelievable opening salvo on a recording  that gets better with each subsequent listen.

So much about 5月​ (​May) is unexpected. Airy minimalism that’s equal parts laid back and contemplative run through “ゾウミジンコ (Bosmina),” while the sprawling “鯉幟 (carp-shaped streamer)” starts with O’Rourke’s meditative guitar playing backing another skyward push from Sakata. There’s a tenderness to O’Rourke’s playing that draws you in, building like a carefully constructed house of cards that’s begging to come down. Again, Sakata jumps to the fore, blasting arpeggiated skronks like his life depends on it. He plays with such intensity and so much emotion that you can physically feel it ripping through your veins. The thing that tempers it all and keeps it firmly grounded is the cerebral, almost subdued guitar keeping rhythms, pushing on, and setting the tone. And about 10 minutes in, when the tension is at its breaking point? O’Rourke cranks it up one more notch and the duo brings the whole thing to a raucous, searing finale.

I was so surprised when this was released on the last Bandcamp day, but after getting deep into it, I couldn’t be more appreciative. I want “早春賦 (sousyunーhu)” played at my funeral, sending me into regions unknown with a proper sonic salute. Akira Sakata and Jim O’Rourke are both titanic figures and on the session, they certainly reach the heavens, but the most striking moments happen in the tiny, intimate spaces they leave for each other along the way and what a joy it is to go along for the ride.