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Aki Takase Japanic: Thema Prima

Ian Patterson By

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Japanese pianist-composer Aki Takase might have agreed with Miles Davis when he said in a 1986 interview with Nick Kent for The Face: "just about everything sounds better these days. Even a car crash sounds better." For the brilliant collison of jazz and hip-hop that is Thema Prima bristles with sonic textures seemingly inspired by the cut and thrust of urban centers. In some ways, these ten pieces could arguably be read as a vibrant extension of LOK 3 (Leo Records, 2005), an imaginary soundtrack to major cities, which Takase recorded with her husband Alexander von Schlippenbach and his son DJ Illvibe (aka Vincent von Schlippenbach.)

Given Takase's eclecticism, the striking musical juxtapositions of Thema Prima—chaotic yet fluid, seemingly random yet intricately choreographed—should come as no surprise. The whole process teems with the thrill of discovery, which has everything to do with the chemistry in Takase's new line-up. Turntablist/electronic musician Illvibe unleashes a deluge of sonic curveballs. His percussive accents augment Dag Magnus Narvesen's lithe drumming, while his broader vocabulary evokes a cornucopia of indeterminate, though suggestive, urban sounds. He also purveys more familiar hip-hop/turntable language, bringing a contemporary edge to Takase's colourful mosaic of swing, bebop, free-jazz and stride.

Takase also draws inspiration from Conlon Nancarrow (1912-1997), the visionary composer who applied his notion of scales of tempi to self-playing pianos, resulting in technical feats beyond human limitations—like Art Tatum on fast-forward. It may all sound like a messy head-scratcher, but Takase expertly marshals her quintet, which also features saxophonist Daniel Erdmann, to forge quite exhilarating music from her idiosyncratic logic.

"Traffic Jam," a heady evocation of rush-hour gridlock, moves from rapid-fire unison play—punctuated by honking exclamations and scurrying piano lines—to dream-like serenity. The quintet snaps out of the reverie with a jaunty closing motif. Nancarrow's shadow falls on the title track and Narvesen's "Mannen i tårnet." On the former, Takase and DJ Illvibe's sparring results in fractured rhythmic patterns, abstract sound-scaping and accelerating tempi. The action is bookended by a thumping motif—piano only on the intro, quintet in unison for the rousing outro. On the latter tune, a boppish head precedes zesty collective improvisation that zigs and zags unexpectedly, mostly at breakneck speed.

Like navigating the old-quarter back-streets of some exotic city, there is surprise around every corner. Erdmann's lead and Takase's counter weave melodious Arabic lines on "Wüstenschiff," which gradually give way to turntable and rap. "Hello Welcome" veers between post-bop steered by fast-walking bass, free jazz and bluesy dirge. Takase's pulsating left-hand motif and tumbling glissandi course through the rhythmically energized "Monday in Budapest," with Illvibe evoking car horns, sirens and other miscellaneous sounds to atmospheric effect. Erdmann's "Les Constructeurs," an intimate saxophone/piano duet, provides the session's only ballad; at one point the music seems on the cusp of completely free improvisation though, in the end, a gentle lyricism prevails.

Illvibe affects the sound of an airplane or some such taking off, on the intro to "Berlin Express," an episodic number in turn punchy, swinging and unexpectedly comic. On the stride-influenced "Madam Bum Bum," Takase channels Fats Waller's spirit, both musical and comedic, with Illvibe's speed-altered vocals adding a modern cabaret-esque touch.

A wildly inventive, adrenaline-charged ride that dances exotically, swings hard, mesmerizes, provokes and lands explosive punches. Takase is on top form here.

Track Listing: Traffic Jam; Thema Prima; A Goldfish in Space; Mannen i tårnet; Wüstenschiff; Hello Welcome; Monday in Budapest; Les Constructeurs; Berlin Express; Madam Bum Bum.

Personnel: Aki Takase: piano; DJ Illvibe: turntables, electronics; Johannes Fink: double bass; Daniel Erdmann: tenor saxophone; Dag Magnus Narvesen: drums.

Title: Thema Prima | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Budapest Music Center Records

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