Susumu Yokota & Rothko: Distant Sounds of Summer
Lo Recordings

Though its pretty melodies and sparkling arrangements were seductive, Susumu Yokota's 2005 release Symbol impressed less for being too sample-based; rather than subtly integrating quoted material into his compositions, Yokota too baldly let classical composers do the talking for him. This considerably more satisfying collaboration with Rothko bassist Mark Beasley results in material that's greater than the sum of its parts. Sure, there are occasional moments of derivation (the funk beat in “Deep in Mist,” for example, cops Mike Clark's infamous break in Herbie Hancock's “Palm Grease”) but in general the album enhances Yokota's gift for crafting iridescent atmospheres with Beasley's distinctive bass work and Caroline Ross's fragile singing (an especially strong element, as it is on the mid-2005 Rothko & Ross collab A Place Between).

Though the songs often identify themselves as Yokota creations by their evocative titles (“Path Fades into Forest,” “Distant Sounds of Summer,” and “Floating Moon”), the participants' collective sound doesn't slot itself so easily into one camp or the other, possible exceptions including the gamelan ambient of “Sentiero” and “Waters Edge,” a setting of cycling loops, Reich-inspired vocal chants, and soft piano blur, both of which suggest Yokota most of all. The album is at its strongest when it pairs Beazley's often multi-tracked bass twang with Ross's sultry vocals (the dreamy trip-hopper “Deep in Mist,” “Lit by Moonlight”) though sometimes the arrangements succumb to excess; the entrancing “Brook and Burn” is weakened by the unnecessary inclusion of beats and slashing electric guitar, while the lovely meditation “Distant Sounds of Summer” is similarly marred by intrusive scratchy noises. And in the soundscape “Reflections and Shadows,” Ross adopts a more robotic delivery that nudges the album towards AGF territory—an interesting experiment but one that hardly plays to the collaborators' strengths. All of them do align, however, during “Path Fades into Forest” where Beazley's relaxed bass solos unhurriedly against a percolating microhouse groove. The 50-minute collection isn't perfect, then, but still includes enough strong moments to recommend it.

January 2006