AMN Reviews: Catching Up with Patrick Shiroishi

Patrick Shiroishi is one of the busiest and most exciting saxophonists alive. Pandemic be damned, he has not slowed down over the last 2+ years. As a result of his prolific nature, we have been lagging in our coverage of his recent releases. It is time to rectify the situation.

Patrick Shiroishi & Cassiopeia Sturm – The Invention of the Saxophone (2022; Surface World)

The term “invention” in the title of this release is meant quite literally. Cassiopeia Sturm plays what she calls a bionic saxafone. It is an alto sax that lacks a mouthpiece and has its output controlled by electronics. As a result, Sturm has expanded the vocabulary of the instrument, which meshes well with the exploratory nature of Shiroishi’s playing on these four medium-length duets. Her sounding of this instrument takes the form of gritty drones, sculpted noise, and occasional runs of notes, while Shiroishi contributes further layers of drones as well as warbling themes. At times, Sturm generates forms that resemble those of a distorted pipe organ. Nonetheless, this expanded palette and Shiroishi’s proclivity to coax unusual sounds from his unmodified tenor result in what might be considered electroacoustic sound art. The Invention of the Saxophone came out on June 10 from Surface World.

Matsumoto / Shiroishi / Watanabe – Yellow (2022; Dinzu Artefacts)

Here, Shiroishi is joined by Kozue Matsumoto on koto (a form of zither) and Shoshi Watanabe on shakuhachi (a form of bamboo flute). The tracks are titled after things that can be yellow; namely, Fever, Peril, Gold, Skin, and Dandelions. Recorded during the recent rise in hate crimes directed toward Asian Americans, this LA-based trio employs spacious and open-ended improv with extended techniques to explore the complex emotions relating to racism, identity, and community. To that end, each piece exhibits a sense of tension and foreboding, exploring colors and textures more than melody or rhythm. Some of this is quite sparse, with disjointed plucking and strumming from Matsumoto accompanied by plaintive and airy blowing, squeaks, and chirps from Shiroishi and Watanabe. In contrast, busier passages have Matsumoto plucking in a percussive manner. Perhaps addressing such an overwhelming societal problem requires a radical approach. Rage boils just below the surface of this offering, but ultimately it is more haunting and sad than angry. Yellow comes out on July 1 from Dinzu Artefacts.

Patrick Shiroishi and Marta Tiesenga – Empty Vessels (2022; Full Spectrum)

Empty Vessels is a quintessential lockdown album, four saxophone duets recorded in an underground tunnel somewhere in LA. Both Shiroishi and Tiesenga are on soprano, and they bring about slow-moving, shimmering tones that echo in accordance with the tunnel’s natural resonance. These practices certainly give a nod toward Pauline Oliveros, but also share a common principle with more recent efforts of Ida Toninato, for example. Alternating between drones, sparser bursts, and short motifs, Shiroishi and Tiesenga provide contrasting pastoral and discordant passages, perhaps reminiscent of the pandemic that made this album possible – the peace and loneliness of empty streets modulated by an underlying dread of the virus behind it all, as well as our collective failure to avoid its worst effects. Empty Vessels will be out on August 12 from Full Spectrum.

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