Takeshi Asai is a New York-based jazz pianist and composer that offers a fresh approach to the jazz community. Asai spends his time juggling the rich music scenes in Europe, Asia and the U.S. and covers a wide range of music from jazz to classical to Broadway and even film and electric music. Asai’s CD, Takeshi Asai New York Trio Vol. 1 is a vehicle for Asai’s legitimacy to the style of jazz in New York, his CD entitled, A Tale of Three Cities - Le Conte de Trois Cités is focused on two-piano concerts entirely improvised, that were recorded and produced with French concert pianist, Catherine Schneider. In the summer of 2013, Asai formed his French Trio, consisting of Pascal Combeau on bass and drummer Maime Legrand. The trio presents eight Asai original compositions on Asai’s CD, French Trio, Vol. 1 (De Trois Cites Records).
As jazz listeners are accustomed to being exposed to many styles, melodic developments and harmonic complexities, Asai seems to be aware of the many obscure angles that can occur when a trio sets out to play all original music that finds inspiration in jazz, classical and popular music, he keeps the project fluid and in focus by always keeping a clear affection for melody. Asai’s compositions make extensive use of counterpoint in the bass with the main theme in the piano. In “A Beginning” Asai presents a lyrical melody that is both harmonically and melodically supported by Combeau’s bass lines, Asai complements the movement in the A sections with the use of a pedal tone for the B section and a recurring rhythmic figure within the form that is also kept for the solo sections. “A Midspring Night’s Dream” finds Asai again including Combeau’s bass in a counterpoint interplay, set to a straight 6/8 feel and a relaxed 3/4 feel. “I Remember the Castle” is another waltz that has an inventive melody that also makes creative use of the bass/piano relationship with Combeau filling the spaces of the melody with light fills and a variation of the original melodic statement over a pedal. Asai shies away from the well-known root patterns of fourths and fifths, giving the music a breath of fresh air. The success of Asai’s compositions is his ability to present lyrical melodies in settings that keep the listener grounded in familiar territory while adding just the right amount of variations and colors to keep things different and moving forward.
The chemistry of the trio is spot on and each solo is full of listening and interacting to shape each musical phrase. Although the music on French Trio, Vol. 1 is not focused on swinging the eight note, Asai’s jazz roots shine through in his crisp articulation and rhythmic clarity with his choice of melodic phrasing straddling the worlds of contemporary jazz and 21st century classical. Asai’s sense of improvisational harmony and melodic color can be heard on “Intro,” an improvised solo piano number that has a wonderful musical arch and clearly draws upon European compositional ideas. “12” starts with an ascending major seventh interval, which seems to keep a variation going from the preceding track, “I Remember the Castle.” “12” is presented in five and as the title implies, the harmonic movement explores all twelve notes in a descending pattern. The chromatic layers inspire a nod to symbolism and the French composer Debussy in its chromatic harmonic colors. Combeau and Legrand are locked together, providing just the right amount of support and commentary to Asai’s solo. On “Le Crepuscule,” Legrand’s drum work does an excellent job of building and framing the composition and Asai’s organic arches during his solo.
What instantly sets Asai’s French Trio, Vol. 1 CD apart is his playing and composing style is thankfully void of clichés and is purely about the beauty of melody and the purity of the music.
H. Allen Williams
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