[17 February 2010]
When you name your album Friendly Pants, you’re making a statement about two things. First, the fact that you didn’t call it Anti-social Pants says that you’re a gregarious optimist who sees the pant leg as half full. Second, you’re so damn friendly that your pants have become friendly by osmosis, and you want everyone to know it. These happily respectable positions are no doubt embodied by the tandem of Japanese saxophonist Akira Sakata and the rhythm section of Chikamorachi, though the effusive smokiness of their jazz provides little insight into the matter. Being that this isn’t the blues, I’m just going to assume it’s true.
One thing the title doesn’t indicate—perhaps because it’s so obvious—is jazz’s penchant for the erratic, something that abounds here like interest in original Blue Note vinyl releases by John Coltrane. This is one of the most impressive qualities of jazz music, particularly in the live setting, as it guarantees that no song, no matter how many times it’s played, sounds the name on a note-for-note basis. This is also something that turns away the casual listener desiring a more rigidly formulaic and predictable musical format. At any rate, Akira Sakata, who hasn’t put out an American record in over twenty years (though you’d never think of him as rusty), and Chikamorachi have harnessed the better points of both spontaneity and structure on Friendly Pants to create a well-balanced album.
Brevity, however, is not something the listener can expect to experience. At only six songs, Friendly Pants stretches on for nearly an hour at an average track length of nine and a half minutes. This is fantastic news for those who enjoy the introduction, expansion, and reiteration of a musical theme, but for others the songs will take on the persona of a droning high school Algebra teacher. You know something complex and interesting is happening, but after twelve minutes of saxophone flippancy on a track like “Un” it’s hard to keep from staring out the window and thinking about anything else.
One thing that does stand out after repeated listens is how well Akira Sakata and Chikamorachi work as a unit. There is nothing overpowering about each individual instrument. The saxophone, upright bass, and percussion all sound very crisp and complimentary while maintaining their own distinct tones. “In Case, Let’s Go Galaxy” and “Yo! Yo! Dime” especially epitomize this synergy and, at times, poly-rhythmic prowess, as the drums never sound cluttered or stumble over Sakata’s breezy hummingbird style. With this in mind, there is little variation from song to song, and each blends into the next so deftly that the album could have just as easily been a mistake-free jam session recorded one starlit night over bottles of bourbon and tendrils of tobacco haze.
The fact that so little stands out on Friendly Pants is a double-edged sword, neither hindering nor helping Akira Sakata and Chikamorachi with indolent attention to detail or cheap, flashy flourishes. The album is smooth that way, gliding into one ear and out the other in the way that some jazz does, as something better-suited for the background of your day or, as I stated, the live scene. It’s difficult to capture the latter’s revelatory and passionate discourse into a recording, no matter how inspired the effort. For all of its strength, poise, and extroversion, Friendly Pants does little to create any particular sensation, and instead operates more as a skill showcase for the musicians involved. Whether this is good or bad is directly related to the listener’s patience and, one suspects, the quality of their own pants.