At the behest of his wife Aki Takase
, fellow pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach
presents 21 short unaccompanied tracks on Slow Pieces For Aki
. It is only his fourth solo record in a career spanning over 50 years, during which he has blazed trails with both large ensembles, notably Globe Unity Orchestra
, and small groups, in particular his trio with Evan Parker
and Paul Lovens
. This current work bears the strongest relationship to his two well- received volumes of Twelve Tone Tales
(Intakt, 2006), in feel if not in structure and design.
Schlippenbach's three-day stay in a Zurich studio resulted in a mix of 11 concise compositions and ten even shorter improvisations, which are interspersed throughout the 52-minute program. Many of the cuts are indeed slow, but not languid. And reflective, but not sentimental. While they are abstract, dissonance is rare. Bunches of notes hang in the ether, surrounded by the ringing sustain which adorns Schlippenbach's luminous playing. The wonderful sound only serves to accentuate the gravity of his purposeful note choices, as he distils each piece to its essence.
An aura of space and unhurried elegance informs much of the scripted fare. Only "Haru No Yuki (Frühling im Schnee)" comes close to pensive atmospherics, coolly lyrical, evoking snow in sunshine, warm rays piercing the crisp air. Elsewhere the selections triangulate between New Music, free improv and left-leaning jazz. Sudden divergences, such as the occasional crashing clusters which punctuate "Torso," assume greater significance amid austere musing. Neither "A-Blues" or "Blues b" flaunts anything other than the merest hint of azure, though the following "Improvisation VII" toys rather more with the cadences of the form.
Stemming from the confluence of intense practice and concentration, some of the improvisations possess more overt structure than the written material, such as "Improvisation IV" with its reiterated phrases examined and then developed further, only to recur later. Schlippenbach doesn't hedge himself in with his title: with its echoes of stride, "Improvisation III" would not be out of place on an outing entitled Fast And Funky Pieces For Aki
. A similar rhythmic impetus animates "Improvisation V" with its scuttling middle register and rolling gait.
Were it needed, the final "Zycado" offers a reconciliation of sorts. Schlippenbach takes an annunciatory two-note pattern which he repeats several times, extends then transforms, until it returns in the opening guise at the end to give a sense of resolution, both to the work and to the album as a whole. It is an enthralling set, understated but swathed in astringent beauty and grace.
Haru No Yuki (Frühling Im Schnee); Improvisation I; Torso; Improvisation II; Improvisation III; Tell You; Improvisation IV;
Cleo; Improvisation V; Naniga Nandemo; Improvisation VI; A-Blues; Blues b; Improvisation VII; I Told You; Improvisation
VIII; Improvisation IX; Dydo; Improvisation X; Frage Nicht; Zycado.