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TRPTK: Breaking Genre Walls

Mark Werlin By

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Kohashi studied in the United States with renowned pianist Steve Kuhn, following years of conservatory studies and studio work in her home country of Japan. Elegy is a showcase for her distinctive sound and compositional style. Kohashi doesn't remind me of any other pianists I've heard. She brings a meditative quality, a sense deep listening and emotional responsiveness, to the piano itself and to the other musicians in the trio.

She has a worthy interlocutor in bassist Frans van der Hoeven. Van der Hoeven plays the introduction and is the featured soloist on "Gary's Waltz." His deep bass timbre (rendered nearly three-dimensional by engineer Brendon Heinst), effortless technique and grasp of the unfolding conversation, strengthen the ensemble sound and maintain a sense of forward movement so that even the slowest passages don't feel static or overly languid. Bowing long sustained notes under Fridman and Kohashi's melodic lines, he keeps the ensemble firmly rooted.

It is no exaggeration to state that Elegy is one of the best-sounding hi-res recordings of jazz or contemporary music in my collection. I can compare TRPTK records favorably to the exemplary work of engineer Bert van der Wolf for the Challenge and Turtle labels. Any attempt to describe in words the clarity, transparency and warmth of TRPTK's house sound must fall short; visit the label's website and sample the musical banquet.

Personnel: Atzko Kohashi, piano; Maya Fridman, cello; Frans van der Hoeven, double bass

Rafael Fraga: Trova Caminhada

TRPTK records a broad spectrum of musical styles, reflecting the presence in the Netherlands of musicians from other countries who are drawn to the Netherlands' rich cultural landscape.

Guitarist-composer-singer Rafael Fraga was born in Lisbon, and the plaintive sound of Portuguese music is embedded in his DNA. Following studies in classical composition, degrees at the Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa and the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, he established a performing career in the Netherlands.

The Rafael Fraga Quartet recorded Trova Caminhada at MCO Studio 2 in Hilversum, the Netherlands, under the supervision of engineer Brendon Heinst. The album's blend of Portuguese folk, bossa nova and jazz elements evoke the work of Brazilian singer-guitarist Milton Nascimento; listening to Fraga's wordless vocal and Aki Spadaro's sympathetic piano accompaniment towards the end of "Está na Hora de Voltar," one can detect echoes of Nascimento's unmistakable falsetto, yet the effect is more of inspiration than imitation. Fraga's Portuguese guitar, built by luthier António Martins, produces tone colors in the bright end of the sound spectrum. He plays skillfully and without the kind of self-indulgent technical flourishes that would detract from the ensemble presentation.

The lyrics to Trova Caminhada are published in the accompanying booklet, though only in the original Portuguese. The imperfect tool of Google Translate cannot do justice to Fraga's writing, but the translations suggest that he is looking unflinchingly at the silences and wounds which inevitably occur at the most intimate levels of relationships. Even without knowing the exact meaning of the words, you can detect the weariness and the hint of hopefulness in Fraga's voice. This is late-night music of accomplished artistry.

The musicians in the Rafael Fraga Quartet add their respective national voices and musical pedigrees into the mix. Pianist Aki Spadaro, originally from Palermo, Sicily, received a degree in Jazz Piano at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam. He regularly performs, composes for films, and teaches in the Netherlands. Australian-born percussionist Efraim Schulz-Wackerbarth is another beneficiary of the jazz pedagogy in Dutch conservatories. His master's degree research on the music of the great drum innovator Tony Williams connects him to the progressive stream of American jazz. Anchored by bassist Marko Bonarius, the ensemble convey a distinctly jazz style that complements Rafael Fraga's neo-traditional songwriting. There is a seamless, seductive quality to this recording, enhanced by Brendon Heinst's expert engineering, that draws the listener in, for a closer musical—and deeper emotional—encounter.

Personnel: Rafael Fraga, vocals, guitar, Portuguese guitar; Aki Spadaro, piano, keys; Efraim Schulz-Wackerbarth, drums and percussion; Marko Bonarius, double bass; Aili Deiwiks, violin; Maya Fridman, cello

Martin van Hees: Remgewogen

Jazz has been in dialogue with other musical dialects throughout its roughly 100-year history, starting with its origins in the polyglot city of New Orleans, at the time, home to African-Americans, Cubans, Central and South Americans, French-and Italian-Americans. Over the decades, as the music spread geographically and evolved technically, jazz composition and improvisation increasingly drew on the harmonic material of then-contemporary classical music.

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