Liner notes for Ake Takase, Konrad Bauer, News from Berlin (Victo)
Poetic and political allusions continue to resonate in the Berlin free scene, more than a decade after the fall of the wall. That this tension-packed, catharsis-prone city has produced such a vital—and volatile—free music community in recent decades supports the notion that culture and social circumstances are engaged in an implicit dance. As the re-united city deepens the search for itself and its identity, so do free-minded musicians there nurture the searching attitude already very much in progress.
The pertinent News from Berlin, as embodied on this duet recording with pianist Aki Takase and trombonist Konrad Bauer, is that freedom rings with a new timbre and openness, depending on one’s aesthetic temper. This is not to say that that their inspired meeting is one mired in dogma. On the contrary, over the course of six purely improvised “Movements” and four structured yet flexible compositions, they present confluent aspects of different expressive tactics and idioms. Abstract inventions abut (“abut:” is a word meaning “To border upon or end at; be next to.” But if you want to, we could replace it with “interacts with” or “flirts with”) hints of swing, an oblique blues ethos, and, occasionally, cerebral balladic impulses.
The real “news” has less to do with Berlin, proper, as the particular sensitivities of musical dialoguing between these players. Lines of communication are especially open here, in that the players are comfortable with the leanness context yet always suggesting more expansive thinking. And for all the spurts of virtuosity, individually and collectively, much of the expressive language here emerges out of roads not taken: the pair interacts, but often on parallel paths, avoiding predictable modes of musical conversation; they work with density and shapes as much as lines and rhythmic waves; and they sometimes opt for space-as-content.
Takase, a Berliner by way of the USA and her native Japan, is happily ensconced in her adopted hometown. Still, inflections of her Japanese musical thinking comes through, as well as her lineage as a koto player, bringing a crisp, percussive attack to the piano, even when her intent is to create swiping brushstrokes on the instrument. In some moments, Akase’s acute sense of time is reminiscent of the piano player studies of Conlon Nancarrow, balancing rationality and floating dreamtime.
That character, of angularity and spaciousness behind the intensity, bodes well for Bauer, whose technical prowess and wisdom are smartly framed and answered here. The musical turf is willfully varied, from the frenetic pointillism of the opening improvisation to the contrasting second track, the pliable Takase original, “Removal.” A squirming left-hand piano riff and a joyful little trombone melody weave in and out of abstraction.
Each of the six “Movement” pieces is a news flash (“news flash” should be correct) from a different angle of their mutual invention. An ethereal air marks “Movement II” while “Movement V” gives rise to chordal logic and modal rambling. The originals, too, remain in close proximity to free zones or contrasting ideas. Bauer’s “Farewell” begins as a languid, reflective melody, into which an elastic, Monk-ish spirit creeps, sideways. Bauer’s “Blues for C” opens with his fluttering tones, hung in the air solo, before Akase enters with a stride-ish smear campaign—knuckle-handed clusters and fragments tied to a bouncing beat.
On the closing track, “Sad about,” Bauer’s plaintive long-noted lines drift across the clattering metallurgy of Akase’s prepared piano, with its rattling metal objects bouncing on strings in various stages of agitation. Energy builds and the musical plot thickens, but that initial interaction makes for a sound poem of contrasting sources, conspiring towards a rugged beauty which summarizes their efforts on the album as a whole.
News from Berlin is good news, indeed. It suggests a broadening of perspectives, but also a focused devotion to artistic values arrived at through long consideration of what music means to these players. Though each musician is boldly singular, some third voice enters into the picture when they engage in dialogues together. And in the end—as with all good duets, relationships, and other partnerships--it is that ineffable third voice that crystallizes the unique character of the two.
--Josef Woodard, March, 2002