Thursday, April 26, 2007

Aki Takase Plays Fats Waller - 25/04/2006@Vooruit, Gent

Aki Takase - p
Rudi Mahall - bcl
Nils Wogram - tb
Eugene Chadbourne - banjo, g, voc
Paul Lovens - d

The Vooruit sums up my idealised image of Gent: a great union of period facade and trappings with a modern sense of interior design. Sometimes the contrast jarring, as in the stark red-and-whiteness of the ticketing office, but it works. Similarily, and maybe coincidentally, everyone's sartorial choices somehow related to their musical contributions. Eugene Chadbourne's Bugs Bunny t-shirt, the contemporary hipness of Nils Wogram's red Lion of Judah t-shirt, the retro class of Paul Lovens's usual white shirt and skinny black tie. Rudi Mahall's amazing look stole the show, though: his thick sideburns, cheap blue suit and yellow shirt made him look like he'd just walked off the set of an early-80s German cop show. Only the grainy film stock was missing.

It's tempting to compare the way Aki Takase pronounces Fats Waller's name to the way she plays his music: both are beautifully mangled into new, just about recognisable shapes. While lots of anachronistic, free jazz-derived elements are added to Waller's compositions, just as many basic stylistic elements survive: humour and absurdity, of course, a frantic scrappiness, jaunty melodies, the festive mood (when Chadbourne sang "The Joint Is Jumpin'," it was no lie), swinging march/parade rhythms, ensemble motifs characteristic of the period, compact solos, New Orleans style front-line counterpoint, hints of Classical and Impressionist borrowings, lots of stride piano and even the Spanish tinge on the brief encore. I'm not too sure about Waller, but Jelly Roll Morton, for example, often through-composed and arranged his pieces. Takase took the same approach, setting duets, collective improvisation and Eugene Chadbourne's singing in rigourous and varied frameworks. The first paragraph of my account of the Oliva/Raulin Quintet's take on the era could almost be copy-pasted here.

Ethan Iverson's review of a Waller boxset made me want to explore him more, so I got a ridiculously cheap compilation (10 CDs for 18 euros) that manages the vexing exploit of having only "Ain't Misbehavin'" in common with Takase's Plays Fats Waller. Though the band members were basically the same and the repertoire and arrangements strayed little from the album's, there were a few subtle changes. The recorded version of "Ain't Misbehavin'" is a duet between Takase and Chadbourne twith a tipsy, after-hours hotel bar intimacy. On stage, the full quintet participated, making it more of a boozy party and Chadbourne seized the opportunity to change the lyrics from "me and my radio" to "me and my banjo" as he hugged his instrument close.

As does the CD, the concert opened with "Looking Good But Feeling Bad" and "Vipers Drag." Aside from Chadbourne's heartfelt comic vocal pastiches, the former featured solos that applied a swing phrasing to wild lines, while the latter went further out, pushing the original material just out of sight, then bringing it back.

Everyone turned in fine performances: Wogram was his typically amazing self, Lovens and Chadbourne egged each other on and Mahall wailed, but the leader was never overshadowed. Takase deftly negotiated hairpin turns between delicate fury and sophisticated abandon, as she tightly interwove stride and free playing. A highlight was a duet with Mahall that started with ferocious bass clarinet barks and elbows thrown against the keyboard. When the pianist shifted to jaw-dropping double-time stride that Mahall could barely keep up with, the aggressivity level did not drop at all. She brought the same physical commitment to both ways of playing, making them seem like one.