Aki Takase / Rudi Mahall and the Alexander von Schlippenbach Trio: London, UK, January 26, 2012
January 26, 2012
The last week in January at north London's Vortex was given over to a mini-festival curated by saxophonist Evan Parker, genteelly entitled "Might I Suggest." Sponsored by the Goethe Institute, it showcased several German-based musicians rarely seen in the UK. On paper at least, the highlight appeared to be the double bill showcasing in two contrasting halves, the husband-and-wife team of pianists Aki Takase and Alexander von Schlippenbach. That seemed a widely held view, as punters rammed the club to the gunnels. Even seating on the window sills had place names allocated.
This was Takase's first showing in England since her tour with Mujician in late 2010. Then she performed in a freewheeling threesome with bassist John Edwards and the now sadly departed drummer Tony Levin, as documented on their excellent A Week Went By (psi, 2010). On this occasion she performed in duet with bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall, revisiting the format of the pair's Evergreen (Intakt, 2008), packing 12 pieces, comprising standards and originals by both players, into their 50-minute set.
Unusually, the pianist found herself largely cast in the role of the straight (wo)man as a foil to Mahall's exuberance. His idiosyncratic physical appearance, tall and thin, in a bright green shirt, swaying back and forward as he played, matched his musical delivery, which was supple, lissome and prone to sudden yelps and rasps. His amusing introductions completed the package. He dedicated two numbers to German trumpeter Axel Dorner, the first humorously titled "Trumpet for Beginners" being a buoyant toe tapper, quite unlike the dedicatee's normal fare, while the second "Wie Axel" was more abstract, featuring Takase plucking the strings inside the Vortex Steinway.
Mahall's homage to his touchstone reedman Eric Dolphy formed a particular feature of their set, manifest in renditions of several of his tunes, from a freely swinging "17 West" to a breakneck cover of "Miss Ann." Though occasionally whimsical, both participants displayed a deep knowledge and love of jazz history, evident in their choice of standards which stretched from a blues meditation on Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" to a tender version of Theo Mackeben's "Bel Ami" which diverged into Berlin cabaret. Their approach combined the playful and serious, often veering outside after an inside start, with Takase touching on stride and barrelhouse figures, as well as more extreme voicings.
The second half by the Schlippenbach trio with Evan Parker and drummer Paul Lovens, couldn't have been more of a contrast, comprising one lengthy piece with a short coda. There was no hint of the tradition, unless the similarities to the legendary '60s trio of pianist Cecil Taylor were taken into account. But Schlippenbach's unit has lasted for much longer than that seminal inspiration and has established a tradition and way of working which is entirely its own, being at the same time more democratic and more individualistic. What they shared with Taylor, at least tonight, was a burning intensity, albeit with more light and shade, achieved through an organic evolution.