Aki Takase

A Week Went By
psi 10.03

Tama

Rolled Up

Jazz Werkstatt JW 067

Recorded less than a year apart, either of these discs by pianist Aki Takase appropriately demonstrates the distinguishing traits of her mature style. A permanent resident of Berlin since 1987, the Japanese-born Takase appears to have no traces of the Orient in her playing.

Expecting some form of Eastern sound from her however may be churlish or naïve, since Takase’s keyboard conception is completely her own. Her preference is for extended cadences and fantasia which rely more on the piano’s lower register than do most players. Plus her version of the now-standard stopping and plucking of the piano’s inner strings usually includes resting implements upon them, whose tonal asides and sometimes literal appearances create distinctive textures. Someone whose playing partners over the years her have included sound explorers such as saxophonist Evan Parker and singer Lauren Newton, she equally committed to Jazz’s ongoing tradition, evidenced by projects dedicated to Ornette Coleman and Fats Waller among others.

Here, with two different rhythm sections, and, on one track of A Week Went By a saxophone guest, she continues to furrow a groove midway between avant garde and modern mainstream. Some of the tracks deal with extended techniques and internal string excitement; others take on a Boppish cast, with echoes of Thelonious Monk’s playing. That too shouldn’t be a surprise, since her husband and fellow pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach is a specialist in the interpretation of Monk tunes.

The chief difference between these two CDs is that bassist Jan Roder on Rolled Up seems much more withdrawn in his contributions than John Edwards does on the other disc. Considering that drummers Oliver Steidle and Tony Levin are equally prominent; and that Roder is upfront enough on other gigs; and considering Tama is a working group, it may be that Takase told him to lay back.

That’s unfortunate because the most impressive of Tama’s 13 tracks are when the trio is firing full force on three cylinders rather than two. For instance “Back Stone” is a fine example of kinetic triple counterpoint, with pluck and pushes on the bass strings, dramatic pressure from the keyboard and echoing cymbal ratchets. Similarly when the bassist expresses heightened atonality with sul ponticello swipes leading to tones that could come from window opening and the pianist moves her internal string stopping to measured tonality on “The Last Drop”, the partnership appears complete.

Conversely on more conventional tracks such as “Breaking Eggs” and “Smoke Ball” – both composed by Takase but sounding like a Hard Bop line or a Latin showcase respectively – Roder retreats to standard time-keeping. On the former, his string-stopping relates more to 1956 than anything since, as the pianist clips some doubled Monk-styled notes; on the later his string slaps are nearly lost amid Steidle’s upfront clanks and press rolls plus Takase’s key pumps which accelerate into tremolo patterns.

Finally, tunes such as Takase’s “Perlin” and a group improv on “Ein Hoher Baum Fängt Viel Wind” appear to only be, in the first case, more an exercise in layered piano harmonies, or in the later a showcase for the drummer’s and pianist’s ability to add swing to a near-military beat. Additional colors are added to “Perlin” by Steidle alternating simple cymbal raps with bell ringing, as Takase sneaks upwards to forte and presto glissandi from a hitherto gentle pulse. Glissandi as well as other techniques are featured on A Week Went By, which matches the pianist with Levin, the veteran drummer, who started s a Hard Bopper, and Edwards, a bassist who seems to have worked with everyone in Free Music from harpist Rhodri Davies to saxophonist John Butcher.

Two immediate examples of this trio effectiveness are on “Cell Culture” and the title track. On the former squeaking bass spiccato and Levin’s blunt strokes create the sort of polyrhythms that frame Takase’s speedy chording, downward keyboard rappelling and resonating high-frequency pounding. Edwards’ spidery strategies are even more prominent on “A Week Went By” as he stops and strums the strings with equal facility –

and nearly simultaneously. Moving to slaps and scrubs as Takase strokes and Levin ruffs, it’s Edwards who turns to walking, eventually creating a full-fledged Jazz line. Dynamic movements from the pianist, which include splayed key pulsing eventually gives way to a sprawling, half-speed beats from Edwards.

On her own on “Ima wa Mukashi” Takase varies her bulky touch with selected episodes where she digs inside the instrument’s action to pluck the strings. She also jangles aluminum pie plates placed on the strings, works the results up to staccato disconnections and then turns the resulting textures into low-pitched cluster chords.

Her meeting with Danish alto saxophonist John Tchicai, whose experience goes back to the birth of the New Thing, also reaches that mid-point between experimentation and tradition. As she accompanies him with doubled plinks and metronomic pops, the saxophonist expels intense trills with a swelling vibrato before heading off into irregular split tones. Her replication of piano-roll-like chording seems to orient his playing in a traditional direction, so that he’s soon quoting “Epistrophy” and “Manteca” before downshifting to honks, overblowing and eventual rapprochement with the piano chords.

Takese’s playing and composing is appropriately showcased on both of these notable CDs. A Week Went By has a slight edge though because of Roder’s uncharacteristic reticence.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Rolled 1. Rolled Up 2. Ball of Yarn 2. Glass Beads 4. Smoke Ball 5. The Last Drop 6. Point 3 7. Black Stone 8. Round Table 9. Drehühne 10. Ein Hoher Baum Fängt Viel Wind 11. Breaking Egg 12. Perlen 13. Schöne Edelsteine

Personnel: Rolled: Aki Takase (piano); Jan Roder (bass) and Oliver Steidle (drums)

Track Listing: Week: 1. Surface tension 2. A week went by 3. Steinblock 4. Just drop in* 5. 57577 6. Ima wa Mukashi 7. Cell Culture 8. Men are shadows 9. Yumetamago

Personnel: Week: John Tchicai (alto saxophone)*; Aki Takase (piano); John Edwards (bass [all but 4, 5, 9]) and Tony Levin (drums [all but 4, 5, 9])