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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Aki Takase and Rudi Mahall – Fifty Fifty (Trouble in the East, 2019) ***½

By Nick Ostrum

The most recent duo recording of pianist Aki Takase and bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall, Fifty Fifty begins with a playful toy-piano-driven jaunt written by Takase titled “Toolbox.” The next track, another Takase composition, consists of a short, repeated tangling groove. The third, Mahall’s first contribution, “Ein Loch ist ein Eimer” (“A Hole is a Bucket”) begins with some abstract riffing, then falls into a melody not unlike that on the previous track. And, except for a few tracks like the wistfully beautiful “Rest Area” (another Takase piece), the album hops along winsomely like this for the rest of its 30 minutes.

In full disclosure, I was fortunate enough to catch this duo playing music from this album at the release show last summer at Sowieso. I have wanted to review it since. The record almost never lives up to the performance, and that rule holds true here. That said, this album does capture a lot of that parlor intimacy. Think a stripped-down version of Die Enttäuschung (another Mahall project) with the same level of ludicity (in terms of both play and skill), quirky melodicism, and intricacy. Think a much more adventurous Vince Guaraldi or Monk without the underlying solemnity. This album is quick. It is idiosyncratic. It has no pretenses to gravity and few to seriousness. That said it is also clear that these two stalwarts of the Berlin free jazz scene and long-time collaborators have a deep connection and some interesting ideas to play with. And, they seem to derive an immense joy from jamming together. One sees it when they play live and one hears it on Fifty Fifty. Is this the most inventive or intricate music that these musicians have composed and performed? No. Rather, it is a light-hearted and engaging stroll through a quirky, 1950s jazz inspired landscape. This is good music.

This is fun music. And, it is a welcome respite from the alternately irreverently harsh and heady ernste Musik I usually spin.

Fifty Fifty is available as a limited-edition LP from Trouble in the East Records and through Bandcamp.

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