Aki Takase Japanic - Thema Prima

Label: Budapest Music Center Records, 2019

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


Aki Takase’s Thema Prima is one of the most exciting albums that came into my hands in recent times. The recording consists of seven Takase compositions and three other pieces penned by two members of her international jazz quintet Japanic: two by saxophonist Daniel Erdmann and one by drummer Dag Magnus Narvesen. Bassist Johannes Fink and Takase’s son, DJ Illvibe, an ace on electronics and turntables, round out this contemporary intergenerational group.

Exploring a number of overlapping territories, including jazz, hip-hop and free improvisation, the musicians get tied up in an onrushing, grooving, semi-abstracted romp called “Traffic Jam”, whose rich and flawlessly integrated sounds describe the nerve-wracking experience of trying to overtake barriers and get through a slow-moving flow of vehicles. From piano revolutions and replications of rhythmic figures to electronic whir and polyrhythmic extravagance, everything contributes to the chaotic, quasi-mechanical environment. After a moment of mitigation, a musical crossing in seven is imposed, but the music advances, stage by stage, through grouping combinations (first piano/sax and then percussion/bass/vibes) until reaching a beautiful classical passage that morphs once again, this time into Latin buoyancy. Uff…! Destination reached!

The pianist and her crew often combine angular stabs with melodic tact while cross-rhythms run in the back. They are able to take us out of our comfort zones without losing musical accessibility, and both the title track, a percussive oddity that ends up in dance-rock wingding, and “Monday in Budapest”, another precipitate avant-jazz foray designed with speed, vigor, and humor, are vivid proofs of what I’m talking about.

On top of this, they offer traditional elements, essential parts of approachable rides such as Narvesen’s “Mannen i Tarnet”, whose thematic boppish melody is fabulously intertwined with DJ Illvibe’s cool manipulations; Erdmann’s “Les Contracteurs”, a sax-piano duet that gives you a chance to relax from the frequent commotions; and the retro-stylized “Madam Bum Bum”, which catch hold of an earlier jazz era through stride piano maneuvers.

But that’s not everything, because the group invites you to a nomadic experience in a Sub-Sahara desert with “Wustenschiff”, where ancient modal authenticity blends with modernistic pulsations, and then buys you a ticket to the “Berlin Express”, a kaleidoscopic expedition that allows you to immerse into its modern aural architectures and topologies. Of course, a post-bop appointment is also scheduled on “Hello Welcome”, culminating with mellow, anthemic folk melodies.

The cutting-edge Thema Prima is not for the puritans. It’s for those who advocate that jazz is continually evolving, merging and adapting, and expanding its vocabulary toward the future. Demonstrating open-mindedness and an insatiable thirst for exploration, Takase plays and orchestrates with zeal and strong identity. Highly recommended.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Traffic Jam ► 02 - Thema Prima ► 04 - Mannen i Tarnet