Taku Akiyama Quintet | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Taku Akiyama Quintet 

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Talk about working in the shadows: once a week for most of this year, alto saxist Taku Akiyama has crammed his quintet onto an unlit ledge behind the storefront window of a Wicker Park rib joint, quietly crafting a lovely little jazz machine that combines a variety of 50s styles and repertoires. Akiyama has garnered more attention in other people's groups (he played on Tatsu Aoki's large-ensemble piece Rooted: Origins of Now, forthcoming on CD from Southport), but it's in this quintet that you can really hear how he blends the influences of several postbop alto giants, from Cannonball Adderley on the east coast to Art Pepper on the west. The sonic profile of Chicago native Lee Konitz shows through at key moments, not only in Akiyama's dry, rounded tone but in his penchant for identifying and investigating unexpected fragments of a song's melody. Konitz and Pepper belonged to the "cool" camp that burgeoned in and around LA in the 50s, and Akiyama's quintet resembles nothing so much as the classic west-coast bands Pepper led at that time, which paired alto with tenor and sometimes guitar; Akiyama has brought aboard both an unflappable tenor man, Tim Haldeman, whose unheated sound matches his own, and an elegantly spare guitarist, Andres Castillo. Josh Thurston-Milgrom chisels strong, broad-toned bass lines, and the role of Shelly Manne--the quintessential cool-school drummer, who coupled an expressive concern with melody to his unimpeachable swing--is here played by Noritaka Tanaka, whose detailed rhythmic flares light up the band's interior textures. On a recent gig, the group's set included Ellington's "Angelica," in a rendition that balanced the song's Afro-Caribbean beat between urgency and ease, as well as Coltrane's "Lazy Bird" and Monk's "Let's Cool One," a great choice for Akiyami's small-ball approach to improvising; then Castillo leaned forward to sing the torcher "You've Changed" in Spanish, his clear, high voice imparting flavors of both bossa nova and flamenco. At the moment, this quintet probably ranks as the city's best (and best-kept) jazz secret. Tuesdays, 9:30 PM, Smoke Daddy, 1804 W. Division; 773-772-6656.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.

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