Aki Takase/Daniel Erdmann

August 22, 2022

Isn’t It Romantic?
BMC CD 301

Cooper-Moore/Stephen Gauci
Live at Roulette
Gauci Music No #

A time-honored challenge in improvised music, the model saxophone-piano meeting is neither a match nor a chase. Instead it’s a declaration of how well both partners can equally express themselves within a compound situation. Coming from opposite sides of the spectrum Americans Cooper-Moore/Stephen Gauci and Germans Aki Takase/Daniel Erdmann show how it’s done.

Tenor saxophonist Gauci who has played with innovators ranging from William Hooker to Alexander von Schlippenbach and pianist Cooper-Moore, who has played with just about everyone in the creative music community have a long-standing duo. And this two-track live CD shows their interaction at its most profound. Japanese-born, Berlin-based pianist Aki Takase, who leads her own ensembles wit the likes of Rudi Mahall; and tenor and soprano saxophonist Daniel Erdmann, known for bands like Das Kapital, met again recently and to mark the occasion recorded this 13-track CD, with only the title track a standard.

That said, as the duo moves from lyrical to rhythmic emphasis and from extended to accepted techniques, hints of other themes come into play. Takase, whose familiarity with Fats Waller-like stride and earlier styles injects swing into her strategies. That is when her key projections and soundboard echoes don’t also encompass cascading note waterfalls, slow-burning timbral emphasis and bouncy clip and click. Otherwise, the pianist’s dynamic glissandi or measured note isolation is frequently on display. Erdmann too displays varied motifs. He can be lyrical and output breathy boudoir-saxophone-like note caresses at a languid pace Yet he’s also efficient at rasping, honking and splintering tones whether it’s with descending scoops or irregularly vibrated split tones. Although some tracks contain protracted solo spots these are without exception interludes until the two players intersect again with novel joint coloration.

Along with those which showcase bouncy dislocated narratives, some of Isn’t It Romantic’s most affecting duets are those which suggest broadened musical insinuations. The mix of nasal soprano sax tone and keyboard pounding on “Festa Magdalena” seems to want to become a Christmas carol, while Takase’s sympathetic low-pitched rolls coupled with Erdmann’s lilting but unusual scoops and smears on “Elevation” posits a theme searching for  ecclesiastical devotion. These sectarian motifs can also move from mellow to motion as it does on “Pascale”, where keyboard sweeps and reed split tones take the exposition from the church to the dance hall. Similarly the concluding title track reorganizes the familiar melody so that reed slurs and rugged key clips shuffle burlesque as much as celebrate the melody.

Nearly every dissonant thrust that Takase and Erdmann avoid is emphasized and celebrated by Cooper-Moore and Gauci, since free improvisation and the isolation of unexpected timbres and tones is their aim. Moving from gentleness to grotesque throughout, the saxophonist’s screeching stops and altissimo smears are met by energetic asides and vigorous sprinkling of metronomic keyboard notes. At the same time Cooper-Moore confronts the rugged exposition with gentling asides, which on the first track at least slither into galloping stride affiliations, before making common cause with Gauci’s snorts and slip tones, This completes that sequence so that it rolls forward with prestissimo key patterns and eccentric scoops and squeaks from the saxophone. Initially slower-moving, with the pianist expressing near classical precision as he isolates certain notes on “Set 2”,  the improvisation soon recaptures it’s ecstatic Jazz mojo as Gauci’s doits and tongue stops fragment the narrative.  As those times when Cooper-Moore exerts such pressure on the piano that it appears keys will soon be flying across the stage,  the saxophonist’s strident multiphonics express genuine emotion. This fervor is converted to slurping Ben Webster-like noodling by the track’s second half. When  his slap tones unite with the pianist’s speedy music box-like tinkles, the tonality as well as the terseness the dual interaction is confirmed.

Follow along the twists and turns of pure improv with Cooper-Moore and Gaudi or the slightly more harmonic meeting between Takase and Erdmann if you wish. You can’t go wrong pursuing either musical path.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Isn’t: 1. Sans Sulfites 2. Festa Magdalena 3. Voodoo Girl 4. Good Bucket Quick Step 5. Elevation 6. No Particular Night Or Morning7. An Jeder Kreuzung Liegt Eine Erinnerung Begraben 8. Magic 9. A Small Step For Me 10. Reconstruction In Berlin 11. The Cat 12. Pascale 13. Isn’t It Romantic?

Personnel: Isn’t: Daniel Erdmann (tenor and soprano saxophones) and Aki Takase (piano)

Track Listing: Live: 1. Set 1 2. Set 2

Personnel: Live: Stephen Gauci (tenor saxophone) and Cooper-Moore (piano)