Aki Takase Carmen Rhapsody Aki Takase, Mayumi Nakamura, Vincent Courtois, Daniel Erdmann
Carmen, one of the most popular operas ever, focuses on a strong and proud woman ruled by her own law. On her new album, iconic jazz pianist Aki Takase takes up this convention-breaker figure, labeling her interpretation of Carmen as a rhapsody. As a seemingly loose sequence of lightly floating, dance-like musical thoughts, which are based on the themes of Carmen by Bizet, not bound to any form and thus verging on anarchy.
Renowned for her unmistakably unique playing and complex and sophisticated approach, Aki Takase has already released two internationally successful albums on BMC Records: in 2019, his Japanic group released Thema Prima, which won the jazz world’s most prestigious awards in a row, and in 2021, she recorded an award-winning duo album with Daniel Erdmann. Alongside his old saxophonist comrade, Takase has chosen another BMC Records-related artist of note, French cellist Vincent Courtois, to realize the Carmen project. The instrumental star trio is joined by Takase’s compatriot, opera singer Mayumi Nakamura.
Aki Takase – piano, harpsichord
Mayumi Nakamura – mezzo-soprano
Vincent Courtois – cello
Daniel Erdmann – tenor and soprano saxophones
About the album
All compositions and arrangements by Aki Takase; Music: Georges Bizet
Except track 4 by Daniel Erdmann and Vincent Courtois; track 8 by Daniel Erdmann, Vincent Courtois and Aki Takase; track 11 by Aki Takase and Vincent Courtois
Recorded by Viktor Szabó at BMC Studio, Budapest on 20-22 July, 2022
Edited, mixed and mastered by Beat Halberschmidt
Daniel Erdmann plays Selmer saxophones and Vandoren reeds & ligatures
Artwork: Anna Natter / Cinniature
Produced by László Gőz
Label manager: Tamás Bognár
sites.google.com/site/mezzoberlin (Mayumi Nakamura)
Management: Constanze Schliebs – www.asianetwork.de
Aki Takase Carmen Rhapsody
The album is available in digital form at our retail partners
„I heard yesterday - will you believe it? Bizet’s masterpiece for the twentieth time. (...) This music seems perfect to me. (...) It is so unaffected and sincere that I have learned it practically entirely by heart, from the very beginning.” - Friedrich Nietzsche in a letter of 1888 about the opera „Carmen” by Georges Bizet, thirteen years after its premiere in Vienna in March 1875. The composer did not live to see the great success of his work; Bizet died a few months after the premiere at the age of 36.
„Carmen” has been one of the most popular opera works ever since the 1880s, and the libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, unlike Prosper Mérimée’s original novella published in 1845, focused on the role of Carmen and thus on a strong, proud, and non-conformist female figure who defies all prevailing conventions. Nietzsche, however, referred in his hymn-like letter to the music of Bizet, and emphasized its lightness. It was the music of an „opéra-comique” with the tragedy of grand opera. A „revolutionary break” from the point of view of musicology, which first found expression in the displeasure of the audience at the premiere. There was nothing „comic” here; expectations of an amusing evening were left unfulfilled.
Aki Takase takes up this tipping figure when she labels her interpretation of „Carmen” as a rhapsody. As a seemingly loose sequence of lightly floating, dance-like musical thoughts, which – in the tradition of the time romanticizing the folksy – are based on these very themes and not bound to any form. This anarchic non-form corresponds to the basic idea of Takase, who completed classical piano training at the conservatory in Japan before beginning to incorporate jazz, new music, and free improvisation into her musical practice, disregarding genre limitations. Her playing is a highly complex collage of the totality of musical styles.
In her arrangement of „Carmen,” based on both the opera and the orchestral suites, Takase draws on the compositional musings of Conlon Nancarrow and his hole punch compositions for mechanical piano, with the simultaneity of repetitions varying in rhythm and tempo. These punch cards were comparable to those used for early computers, and with them Nancarrow was able to realize new musical structures that went beyond manual playing ability.
Nancarrow had traveled to Europe as a jazz trumpeter in 1936 and fought against the Francoists in the Spanish Civil War in 1937 before returning, seriously injured, to New York in 1939. There he started his musical experiments in which he took motifs of jazz and twelve-tone music to stand side by side on an equal footing. From 1947 he composed exclusively for mechanical piano, for which he built his own punching machines in order to increase the velocity. He saw time as the ultimate limitation of music that had to be overcome.
The idea of „Carmen Rhapsody” came about when Aki Takase met mezzo-soprano Mayumi Nakamura through Japanese artist friend Chiharu Shiota and began thinking about ways to collaborate. Duo encountersform the great constant in Takase’s work, and some of them transcend music. For example, she also performs in duos with dancer Yui Kawaguchi or with writer Yoko Tawada. After a series of rehearsals and joint performances with Mayumi Nakamura, she invited French cellist Vincent Courtois and German-French saxophonist Daniel Erdmann to join her for the current studio recording of „Carmen Rhapsody” in Budapest. Vincent Courtois is part of her French quartet „La Planete”, with Daniel Erdmann she plays as a duo and also with her quintet “Japanic”.
The recording opens with a cello solo by Vincent Courtois: a slow, lonely melody that is picked up by Takase’s piano after about a minute and a half – before it splinters in tumultuous commotion, just as Daniel Erdmann and Mayumi Nakamura enter. Carmen’s great arias, such as „Sevilla” and „Habanera” are brilliantly interwoven with the combination of classical concertante form, new music, and collective free improvisation. Aki Takase herself describes her rhapsodically conceived Carmen as a combination of passion and experimentation, in which the parameters of jazz and new music determine the compositions and arrangements, with Bizet’s melodies embedded as fragments.
Overall, the studio recording lasted five days. Frantically fast, virtuosic, and of great precision, Takase, Erdmann, and Courtois display their superior instrumental savvy and improvisational skills as they interact with Nakamura’s pliant mezzo-soprano, which is as alluring as it is mocking. The pleasure of improvising together on Takase’s arrangements is palpable, as is the tremendous speed of repetition and variation, in the spirit of Nancarrow. Thus the comic and the tragic, the classical and the experimental meet. And unlike Mérimée and Bizet, the end is not death, it is the „Habanera”. A slow, sensual dance in two-four time, the aria of the rebellious bird of love, enticing, swaying, until the melody breaks open spectacularly and, in abstract beauty and rhythmic excitement, frees itself once again.