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Aki Takase/ Han Bennink: Two For Two

Mark Corroto By

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The pairing of these two international jazz musicians—Japanese pianist Aki Takase and Dutch drummer Han Bennink—for an hour's worth of duets yields a worthy tribute to both Thelonious Monk and free jazz. The pair's Two For Two might have been better inscribed as Instant Monk.

Although Takase and Bennink only cover two Monk compositions, reed man Eric Dolphy's tribute, "Hat And Beard," and the pianist's own "Hommage To Thelonious Monk," the entire sixteen tracks percolate a Monk constitution. Chalk that up to the fiercely swinging Bennink's love of odd angles and his mission to articulate the possibilities of rhythm and time. Like his regular piano partner Misha Mengelberg, Bennink is the master of isolated quirkiness.

Playing here with a new comrade, perhaps the drummer has to listen closer, anticipate the changes and find a common language. Takase is quite familiar with the Monk book—not just the expanse of his own writing, but his roots in Harlem stride, Tin Pan Alley, and Broadway musicals. Two versions of the title track bookend the disc with a simple melody that is hijacked by Bennink, who turns them into a cartoon military march that defines his liaison with Takase.

This is a fun couple that, fresh with japes and shenanigans, can reveal an infectious light groove on "Baumkuchen" or messy freedom on "My Tokyo." Takase is a great counter to Bennink, refusing to play straight-(wo)man to his tomfoolery. With extensive practice playing duets with the likes of Rudi Mahall, Louis Sclavis, David Murray, and George Lewis, Takase's touch at the piano can deliver dense thick chords or the lightest dancing melodies. The pianist's "Rolled Up" plays with the Broadway themes of Leonard Bernstein, unwinding them with Monk's.

The pair adopts the swagger of jazz, but with the entertainment motive of vaudeville. When Takase and Bennink turn to the classic "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?," the pianist performs a slow motion stride interpretation, accented by Bennink's light and sensitive touch. The piece circles the globe from Asia to the Low Countries, through Harlem and gently back to New Orleans.

Track Listing: Two for Two; My Tokyo; Locomotive; Zankapfel; Knut (dedicated to Yoko Tawada); Baumkuchen; Monochrome; Raise Four; Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?; A Chotto Matte; Hat And Beard; Ohana Han; Rolled Up; Hell Und Dunkel; Hommage to Thelonious Monk (Motive of Pannonica and Ask Me Now); Two For Two.

Personnel: Aki Takase: piano; Han Bennink: drums.

Title: Two For Two | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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