27 September 2012

Local jazz aristocracy

It’s confusing in a new town when you look for gigs. You have no idea what’s interesting or who to see. Luckily I crossed Reuben’s path and he pointed me to A-Trane this night. After checking out the website, it’s obvious that A-Trane is a significant club. It seems this is one on the touring circuit. So coming up in the next few weeks are Al Foster and James Blood Ulmer.

First set was by the duo of Japanese pianist Aki Takase and bass clarinetist Rudy Mahall. Now, I know the reputation of the bass clarinet as a difficult instrument and I had no idea of Aki T as a pianist, so I had no idea of what to expect. I got a fascinating and challenging outing with some pretty extreme, free explorations and wonderful technique. Rudy played the bass clarinet like the easiest of saxes running scales and arpeggios at speed and playing with all manner of harmonies and with the most chipper presentation. A joyful touch is not something you expect from the experimental scene. Chris suggested it’s a background out of cabaret. I have no idea, but it’s definitely attractive and endearing. As for Aki on piano, she was a place shaker to my ears. Sometimes swing or stride, othertimes the most brave and confronting dissonance. Ati can play some seriously intriguing music. They played a few Ellington tunes and some originals and Eric Dolphy and I think one Monk piece. They even played Take the A-Train, or was it their take renamed as U-Train (I missed most of the patter, given no German)? I didn’t hear the link to A-Train, but I guess it’s there. This was ecstatic and energetic and barrier-breaking music that was played with immense skills with confidence and appeal. I was intrigued and absorbed, when I wasn’t taking a rest from the demands of it all, for a sip of beer.

Second set at the A-Trane was the Schlippenbach-Walsdorff Quartet. Reuben had told me AvS is a significant name in the Berlin jazz scene and this is no understatement. He’s recorded profusely and led several large ensembles (Globe Unity Orchestra and the Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra) and recorded a Monk “complete” works for one night). So this was an interesting, local experience. I heard this gig as in the style of the Jazz Messengers, so I wonder if he also plays this role in Berlin. Certainly, the music was similar. Hard bop, hard swings, played hard; head/solos/head, common structures, eg 32-bars. I didn’t feel the band gelled early on, but they were sitting nicely by the end. I heard Christian’s drums as immensely confident and forceful and youthful from the top: perhaps a rebel with a cause. Antonio’s bass was initially more reticent, but he strengthened and I particularly liked some later solos which were understated but clear and purposeful. The two others were doggedly behind the beat, especially early in the night, Alexander playing busy eighth-note lines and Henrik more sparse with a light staccato. I particularly liked some contorted melodies and unresolved endings and AvS is renowned also as a composer, so I guess they were his. The night ended with the two bands together for an encore. And as I write this, I learn that it was husband and wife together on the piano stool and that Rudy Mahall has featured I recordings by AvS. So this is local jazz aristocracy. Impressive.

Aki Takase (piano) and Rudy Mahall (bass clarinet) played the first set at the A-Trane club in Berlin. The Schlippenbach-Walsdorff Quartett featured Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano), Henrik Walsdorff (alto), Antonio Borghini (bass) and Christian Lillinger (drums) played the second set. They all played the encore.

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