top of page

2019 Chicago Jazz Festival Preview: Mai Sugimoto

By Monica Staton

Japanese-born saxophonist Mai Sugimoto will perform her compositions from her debut album Born/Raised at the Chicago Cultural Center on August 29th at 1:45 p.m. The multi-instrumentalist initially played the piano, adopting the saxophone after moving to the United States at age eleven. Her earliest influences were Charlie Parker and the sound of big bands.

Mai Sugimoto introduces herself not only as a creative improviser but also as a strong and unique composer. The melodies of her pieces are often polyphonic. Ofttimes in Sugimoto’s compositions the sax melody is happening simultaneously with the trumpet melody. The melodies are often independent, venturing in many directions, with different rhythms to create counterpoint. This technique, which had its heyday in baroque music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, is infrequently used today.

Sugimoto manages to adapt the style and transform it into something very current.

Born/Raised was released in November 2018. The instrumentation resembles Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come with a quartet consisting of two horns, upright bass, and drums. Without the strict tuning of a piano in the mix, the intonation of the group is liberated. Similarly, since no instrument is putting chords behind the soloist, there is much more give and take with the harmonic structure of the music, often leading to an open feeling and sound. Much deliberateness is needed from the band—often expressing the music through melodies alone—to create clarity for the listener.

Throughout Born/Raised, Mai Sugimoto clearly succeeds in making strong statements: creating long lines with unexpected melodies that take the listener to sometimes beautiful, sometimes odd, or humorous places. Bassist Katie Ernst shines with a beautiful upright bass tone and strong intuition.

Singular lines and musical conversations between the pair are things that can be expected on the upcoming performance at the Chicago Cultural Center. Joining Sugimoto and Ernst is sought-after drummer Charles Rumback, who will provide his warm and mellow sound as a flowing canvas for the conversation, just as he did on the recording. Rounding out the quartet is trumpet master Russ Johnson, who will add to the great dialog for which the quartet is known.

Mai Sugimoto performs Thursday, August 29, from 1:45 p.m. to 2:45 pm at the Chicago Cultural Center. Click here for more information.

bottom of page