From lyrical minimalism and soft melodies to black metal, free music and the landscape of everyday rituals. I have chosen five most interesting records released last year by Patrick Shiroishi – one of the most active musicians of 2021.

Translation: Aleksandra Szkudłapska

I like making personal ‘best ofs’ dedicated to a specific country or label. In 2021, I researched both of the above, encountering some real gems, but nowhere have I found such diversity and consistency of quality as when listening to subsequent albums released by Patrick Shiroishi.

I first heard this Los Angeles saxophonist on an album Tulean Dispatch released in 2017 by Warsaw’s Mondoj label, which never fails when it comes to seeking out tremendously interesting avant-garde and experimental musicians from around the world. Later on, I wrote about his album Nakata recorded with Paco Casanova, and I’ve been following him since. Shiroishi keeps surprising listeners with new albums, both recorded solo and in various collaborations. He is strongly rooted in free music – a genre often prone to triviality and long-windedness, though not with this guy. Shiroishi, raised next to the legendary The Smell club, has noise albums under his belt, dabbled in musique concrète and even played subtle ECM-style jazz (though not too sweet). 

Last year alone, he released more than 12 records – on average one a month. They were very diverse in terms of style and subject, some also highly personal. These are the effect of his solo endeavours, but most of all collaborations with artists representing different styles – a quality that shines through in the music. Shiroishi doesn’t always barge in with his booming saxophone. He adapts to the situation, using music to converse with others, sometimes even letting them take centre stage. Consequently, he is able to showcase a broad array of his skills, which is the main determinant of my selection below – I strongly recommend to listen to these albums in the order I’ve described them.

PATRICK SHIROISHI Hidemi, Touch Music/Fairwood Music
Shiroishi released several solo albums in 2021, but to me, this is the strongest of them all. This lyrical, yet sharp narrative, told in the style of Albert Ayler and Battle Trance, contains a turn towards minimalism (“Tule Lake Like Yesterday”), polyphonic harmonies (“Jellyfish In The Sky”) and frenetic passages showcasing the strength of Shiroishi’s sax. This coherent recording – dedicated to the artist’s grandfather, who was incarcerated in a Japanese American concentration camp during World War II – is a mature and moving story. The saxophonist is riding the edge of his instrument, striking a balance between its strength, lyricism and emotional potential. Most of all, however, the album is a tour de force of Shiroishi’s compositional skills, highlighting the timeless message contained in the structures and melodies of subsequent tracks.

FUUBUTSUSHI Yamawarau, Cached Media
The quartet created remotely during the pandemic by Shiroishi, Chris Jusell, Chaz Prymek and Matthew Sage has launched a series of recordings dedicated to the seasons of the year. This is definitely the most subtle and delicate (yet equally entrancing) incarnation of Shiroishi’s music. Warm synthesizers, violin, guitar, saxophone and percussion occasionally providing the rhythm – plus a whole lot of ornamentation – come together in a coherent narrative. This carefully arranged sound postcard of a fleeting moment in time conveys a broad range of emotions through its smooth, democratic soundscape. Using a broad range of sounds, the quartet builds a truly absorbing story, with ease untarred by having to record the whole material remotely due to lockdowns.

YOE To Exist Among Wolves, self edition
On this album, guitars and drums serve a cross between free and black metal. Apart from Shiroishi, we get Tashi Dorji and Thom Nguyen in the line-up – their names can be pieced together out of the anagrams in the record’s notes. These heavy tracks, each rushing at breakneck speed, come together in a dense sonic magma, yet subsequent instruments are interspersed with surprising lightness. Dorji’s feats on the guitar are counterpointed by Nguyen’s fluttering hi-hats and the wall of sound of his drums. What’s new is the fact Shiroishi puts away his saxophone in order to play the second guitar, breaking out in frenzied growling. As a result, instead of unnecessary woodwind passages, we get pure metal, dense like tar, wild, heavy and liberating in equal parts.

For the last couple of years, Claire Rousay has been making everyday soundscapes based on musique concrète and field recordings – the last one being her album A Softer Focus. Patrick Shiroishi joins her in this ritual of the mundane, driven by ordinary sounds of the surroundings (clock ticking, dishes, cutlery, pouring water, driving cars), with added ambient synth layers and microsounds that build a subtle musical fabric. This brilliant union is based on nuance, ideas emerging from the background, which – interwoven and entangled – create a captivating journey. The narrative doesn’t explode all of a sudden, the suspense is carefully meted out, sounds and non-sounds converge – and the result is extremely captivating.

Shiroishi’s album recorded with Chis Williams seems to be the one that’s most rooted in the free jazz idiom – and at the same time, the most focused on sonoristic explorations. It begins almost imperceptibly, with the duo delicately emerging from complete silence. Both musicians use woodwind instruments, which may often be quite a mouthful, but what comes to the fore here is coherent sound and amazing communication between the pair. They play slowly, allowing sounds to reverberate, drawing them out, occasionally highlighting resonance (“In the pines, in the pines”). The compositions are noble rather than ecstatic – frivolous passages are counterpointed with sonorous cascades. A wonderfully coordinated duo that controls how they play together, both prolonging the time and building dramatic tension of subsequent pieces.