Combining the five-note pentatonic scale — the basis of Asian and African music — with a love of Bach is like trying to mix oil with water. But that’s what saxophonist Yasuaki Shimizu does on his latest album, “PENTATONICA.”
Though such bold experimentalism is in danger of becoming superfluous — if intriguing — there is nothing gratuitous about Shimizu’s imagination. He hit the music scene with the 1980s experimental rock band Mariah, and later, in the ’90s, went on to receive great acclaim for his solo performances of Bach on tenor saxophone. His latest outing with his saxophone quintet is inspired by Ethopian music. The African polyrhythms are suspended within Bach’s contrapuntal framework, but the tension is freed by a sexy jazziness in the saxophonists’ relaxed ensemble playing. The simple, repetitive melodies are colored with surprising, discordant notes, and Shimizu’s saxophone solo in “Dolomiti Spring” has a fresh lightness and liveliness that echoes a cool breeze blowing through the grass.