Aki Takase

Le Cahier du Bal
Leo / CDLR319

Aki Takase / piano





Howard Riley Trio

Emanem / 4054

Howard Riley / piano, Barry Guy / bass, Tony Oxley / percussion, electronics






Pandelis Karayorgis Trio

Blood Ballad
Leo / CDLR325

Pandelis Karayorgis / piano, Nate McBride / bass, Randy Peterson / drums






Christine Wodrascka & Ramon Lopez

Aux Portes du Matin
Leo / CDLR318

Christine Wodrascka / piano, Ramon Lopez / drums

Takase, Karayorgis and Wodrascka are all firm-handed pianists who take jazz seriously. The first two owe something two Monk — who doesn’t? — but their languages are quite different despite some superficial similarities; Wodrascka is more distant from the jazz tradition, but this is still very much jazz music rather than something else. Riley is, if course, an established player with an international reputation; while comparisons with the younger players are unfair, there’s clearly some common ground here among them all.

Takase is all over the keyboard; she has more Cecil Taylor in her playing than first appears. There are none of the great galloping chromatic runs which pianists employ so liberally these days, however, and it’s the older man’s sense of jazz harmony which seems to have made an impact on Takase.

The fifteen improvisations here are freewheeling and rather wild for the most part, but the complete confidence of touch which powers them along is wedded to a cunning thematic approach to developing material and one never feels that the music is slipping away from her.

There’s a lot of functional harmony here, and much more exposed than you’d usually find in Tayor’s playing. “Tango de Anzu”, an exquisite exercise in dramatic staccato, even moves through a succession of tonal centres. But it’s never reduced to changes or lazy cadences; Takase does a continuous high-wire act and never falls into the safety net. This is hugely impressive stuff, and we had better hear more from Takase in the future; she must havea mind like a bacon-slicer to play such intelligent, structured music on the fly. Unconditionally recommended.

Pandelis Karayorgis is a no less smart player. His clever uses of dissonance impressed in Heart and Sack and continue to do so here. Inspired by the Strayhorn/Ellington book, and covering a Coltrane tune, he’s in even more mainstream jazz territory here than he was on his previous release, and this is music which many who find most of Leo’s catalogue a litte intimidating will be able to get along with grandly.

That’s certainly not to say it’s a lightweight set, however. Karayorgis is a pianist not tobe underestimated; his fractured, Monk-like logic is absolutely right and the uneasy conjunction of rather sentimental hard bop with jagged angles is constantly arresting. He seems to think his way through each solo, making weird but valid deductions from the basic harmonic scheme. Indeed, the extent of such a scheme or the degree of composition is not clear, because the trio’s playing is sure-footed but oblique throughout.

As for McBride and Peterson, they mainly hold back and provide support for the pianist — a welcome improvement over the loud “Heart and Sack” set, which sounds ragged by comparison. Both are consummately tasteful, and although their contributions are essential they’re appropriately understated. The focus here is on Karayorgis, and anyone who enjoys jazz piano would be wise to hear what he has to say.


Christine Wodrascka is far more “abstract” than Takase or Karayorgis; she’s also the youngest and least well-known. Like Takase, her modus operandi is thematic development, but here the themes are deceptively simple blocks of sound, and she’s as interested in their rhythmic as harmonic characteristics.

Her duet with Lopez if dynamic and chromatic, impetuous and, in one sense anyway, not terribly subtle. But Wodrascka’s music isn’t about subtlety, or not really anyway, and her rhythmic dynamism is what keeps you listening to these very involving performances. She’s at her best when tackling her rugged lumps of material — big dissonant chords which tremble and hammer under her fingers — rather than quietly ruminating on the strings (as she does on one piece) or preparing the instrument. This latter is quite a mess, although an undoubtedly enjoyable one as objects ping off the strings and bounce around. That seems to be a big part of her aesthetic, and one imagines that Lopez, who likes this sort of thing, is having a ball.


Ramon Lopez | Photo: Carmen Llussà

Still, there’s a definite jazziness at the heart of this music. Lopez, although far from a traditional free bop man, plays with a lazy swing for a gopod portion of this music, something over which both his and his partner’s big, dramatic gestures can sit. The pair work together beautifully, and although the music here is somewhat mixed the high points are very, very impressive.

British veteran Howard Riley has things in common with all of these players — Takase’s thematic cunning, Karayorgis’s obliquity, Wodrascka’s thunder — but, of course, in a rather different package. Riley is, unlike any of these three, entirely divorced from functional harmony, and his approach to rhythm is, as the cliche has it, angular. Actually, the cliche has something to recommend it; Riley really does sound as if he’s navigating absurdly frequent hairpin bends at the keyboard, and hardly has be begun to state an idea, it seems, then he’s driven it with what appears to be wild abandon in the opposite direction.

It’s a pleasure to hear Riley in good company, and we’re fortunate that his taste in musicians has always been pretty good. Rarely have such heights as these been obtained, however; the trio with Oxley and Guy sounds like it’s going to be pure perfection, and it is. The bassist is infinitely flexible, and here his arco sings, growls, grizzles, punctuates and percusses, always in synch with Riley and often pushing him, with a split-second manoeuvre, into one of those handbrake-turns which so characterise this music. The bassist in a piano trio can sometimes feel like a spare wheel, but never here; Guy is proactive, Riley is constantly interested, and both listen with enviable acuity.

Oxley’s musicianship is, like that of the other two, legendary. He’s just the sort of thing Riley needs, a player, like Guy, which is unintimidated and full of ideas. His main mode is a very busy rush of sound, but within that is a forest of detail. He has plenty more percussive techniques than this, of course, but the music here being often blustering and highly energetic, this approach is often in evidence.

Oxley also uses electronics here to augment the trio sound. Sometimes this approach can be pretty nasty, as irrelevant bleeps and squarks leap out of an otherwise acoustic setting. Oxley, however, is cleverer than this, and the sounds he employs are close to the sounds of the trio, so that even a close listen can have you mystified as to which instrument you’re hearing, especially as all three use amplification and stomp-box effects from time to time. There’s absolutely nothing intrusive about any of this, and the Oxley-Riley duet “Pages”, where the electronics are at their most obvious, sounds remarkably like the trio usually does, with the extended techniques which are widely in evidence augmented by electronics. The piece, and the remainder of the music here, is utterly absorbing and ravishingly lovely. Recommended without hesitation. Richard Cochrane