Jim O’Rourke never really quit music after resigning from Sonic Youth to “make films.” He just went to Japan and indulged his even less pop-friendly fascinations. When not composing solo electronic pieces all on his lonesome, O’Rourke can usually be found playing guitar or bass on free-jazz jam dates like this one with Japanese alto-sax player Akira Sakata.
These blowing sessions sometimes feel a little similar, but & That’s the Story of Jazz easily sits at the front rank of O’Rourke collaborations to be released in 2011. Better still, it’s somehow been allowed to see an official digital release. (O’Rourke seems to hate MP3s. He’s not even sure about CDs; his recent archival series for Editions Mego is vinyl-only.) Sakata’s alto usually takes the lead on these pieces, although each one is long enough to allow the other players extended solo moments. In any case, even fans of Sakata’s Friendly Pants album are likely to be surprised by all the sounds his alto carries here. He can squeal to beat the (thrashing) band, though Sakata also pursues tender detours, some klezmer-sounding licks — at times even invoking Ornette Coleman’s approach to melody.
O’Rourke’s style of accompaniment is just as diverse. There’s probably never been a free-jazz/outsider-rock guitar player who was as good a producer as O’Rourke is, and it shows: He has a pedal and a picking effect for every moment, and they all seem to work well in the context of what’s being played. Chris Corsano’s drumming is equally responsive. (Bjork didn’t use him on Volta for nothing.) The second disc feels a bit like overkill, but that’s in part because the two nearly half-hour long pieces on disc one set such a high bar for innovation and moment-to-moment intelligence.