Celebrated solo electronic artist Shigeto experiments with musical collaboration

In the wide worlds of jazz and electronic music, Detroit-based Shigeto stands out.

Zach Saginaw, an Ann Arbor native who records and performs music under as Shigeto (his middle name), first recorded for ambient and IDM digital label Moodgadget; then for Ghostly International, which in 2013 released the jazz-inspired, polyrhythmic, and critically-acclaimed "No Better Time Than Now" LP.

In an August 2013 XLR8R magazine review of the album, Patric Fallon writes, "If he isn't already, Shigeto should be counted among some of the best contemporary jazz artists alive, and 'No Better Time Than Now' is the reason why."

XLR8R's Fallon praises Shigeto's isolated genius, writing, "In a year where guest appearances and high-profile collaborations are the driving forces behind a number of prominent releases, knowing that an album as masterfully crafted and immersive as 'No Better Time Than Now' is the creation of an artist alone in his studio gives its music a special appeal."

Last month, however, Shigeto got a chance to perform in a group setting at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Mix @ the Max. He played drums in a live ensemble made up of Jusef Deas (standup bass/synthesizer), Charles Tillinghast (electronics/sampler), Brennan Andes (electric bass) and Ian Finkelstein (synthesizer/rhodes piano).

"It's a real honor to play with those musicians," says Shigeto, which is his actual middle name and his grandfather's name, reflecting the Japanese side of his family heritage. "To do an improvisational jazz live set is getting back to my roots as a musician. To do it at the Max is very exciting for me."

Saginaw studied drums at the New School in New York before continuing his music education London. He began to make beats in Brooklyn, before returning home to the place where soul and jazz formed the soundtrack of his youth. He was brought up on Detroit and Michigan music, getting exposed to his father's Motown and jazz collection at an early age. Saginaw gravitated to the drums and began playing in the local music scene as a teenager.

Shigeto developed a style from the streets, incorporating dub and hip hop influences before getting formal academic training. The blend of the two has served him well as his career has moved forward.

"I believe that if you do your thing first, develop a certain style, then people begin to trust you," he says. "If you step outside the box, they will follow you if you already established a strong musical character."

In getting the ensemble together for the DSO performance, Shigeto stepped outside what some might consider his comfort zone -- but not too far outside. "This is who I am. I'm constantly writing, composing, doing different things, taking risks, taking my time developing my music," he says.

One of Shigeto's newest projects is composing a film score for a documentary shot in Detroit called "Street Fighting Man." He says the film is about the day-to-day struggles of three young African American men. 

"The footage is very raw and real," Shigeto says. "It's filmed in Detroit but it documents the reality of being a young black male anywhere in the country. This is a great film that shows the city and its people the way they really are."

He's also recently created music for a video game ("Hohokum") for Playstation and is recording with jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas, who he met at a Red Bull festival in New York.

He plans to tour with Douglas and other jazz players, this time doing electronics, in 2015.

By performing at the DSO's Mix @ the Max program, which puts a spotlight on contemporary emerging artists, Shigeto sees the opportunity to reach a new local audience. "I'm sure there will be people there who would never come to see me in a club setting," he says. "Mixing up the music, challenging the audience is what this is all about."

Check out Shigeto's music here.

Walter Wasacz s former managing editor at Model D and a Hamtramck-based freelance writer, editor, and musician. Follow him on Twitter @nospectacle.

A version of this story originally appeared on IXITI.com, the experience engine for Southeast Michigan.
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Read more articles by Walter Wasacz.

Walter Wasacz is a writer and the former managing editor of Model D. You can find more of his writings here.