Aki Takase, Christian Weber, and Michael Griener advance the language of piano jazz with a collective approach | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Aki Takase, Christian Weber, and Michael Griener advance the language of piano jazz with a collective approach 

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click to enlarge (L-R) Michael Griener, Aki Takase, and Christian Weber.

(L-R) Michael Griener, Aki Takase, and Christian Weber.

Stefanie Marcus

Berlin-based pianist Aki Takase has been performing for more than 40 years, and in that time she’s engaged with contemporary composition, spoken word, and even a turntablist—the trio Lok 03 includes her husband, fellow pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, and their son, DJ Illvibe. But no matter where she roams, her playing is fundamentally rooted in jazz. Her 1978 debut album, Aki, featured a piano-bass-drums trio, and on the new Auge she revisits that classic jazz setting for the first time in more than a decade. According to the album’s liner notes, written by former Reader staffer Peter Margasak, this lineup on Auge developed organically out of Takase’s long-term acquaintance with drummer Michael Griener, a fellow veteran of Berlin’s improvised-music scene who first saw the pianist in action when he was a teenager. About three years ago, Griener introduced Takase to Swiss bassist Christian Weber, his partner in an excellent combo with saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, and they hit it off so well that she enlisted the two men to join her in developing a piano trio that operates according to an egalitarian group dynamic.

Takase composed four of the album’s 14 tracks, and each of her pieces contains opportunities for another player to transform or complete her ideas. The other ten pieces are jointly credited, and while they were created spontaneously, they feel more collectively orchestrated than freely improvised. The way each musician gently introduces their instrumental voice to “Last Winter” and “Out of Sight” shows their shared commitment to mutually respectful interactions and satisfying outcomes. Thankfully, this diplomatic atmosphere doesn’t prevent them from challenging one another: on “While in Rome,” each of them first plays a part that suggests an evolution away from a comrade’s idea, and then all three converge to make an elegantly cohesive closing statement. Their empathy for and responsiveness to one another’s input make Auge a bold expression of the piano trio’s ongoing creative potential.   v

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