Twenty-five years before recording their new duo album, almost to the day, Aki Takase and David Murray recorded Blue Monk, on which they explore some of the hidden dimensions of Thelonious Monk via four of his tunes. On Cherry-Sakura, they get back on that bicycle built for two with an exuberant take on Monk’s “Let’s Cool One.” While Murray charismatically toys with the melody on bass clarinet, Takase vigorously connects Monk to early piano masters, like her hero Fats Waller, with her rolling stride patterns. It’s such an infectious performance, you may want to hit the repeat button in blissful retreat from the outside world.
The rest of Cherry-Sakura consists of originals by either Murray or the Berlin-based Takase (who at this point in her illustrious career deserves to be far better known on these shores). Murray has rarely been in more gorgeous, Ben Webster-ish form on tenor saxophone than he is on “To A.P. Kern,” dedicated to the subject of a famous love poem by Pushkin, and Takase’s “Nobuko,” a lovely ballad, in memory of her mother, to which she applies a spare classical touch.
Murray and Takase are established masters of free jazz, but 25 years on, they keep that side of their artistic makeup largely under wraps in the interest of more contained performances. As revealed on Takase’s jumping and jiggling tune “A Very Long Letter,” both the pianist, 69, and saxophonist, 62, can still step out in boisterous fashion when the urge strikes. But even in that vein, their playing has more lyrical weight than it did when they last entered the studio together—no surprise coming from artists who have never stopped growing.Originally Published