Aki Takase Japanic Forte

BMCCD331 2024

Aki Takase releases the second album with her commanding band, Japanic. On Forte, the leading figure of European improvisational jazz once again demonstrates her energetic, radiating nature, joined by her distinguished bandmates – Daniel Erdmann, Dag Magnus Narvesen, Carlos Bica and DJ Illvibe –, and two guest artists, Alexander von Schlippenbach and Nils Wogram.
Her music not only sounds strong and powerful, but also conveys strength and power. And this presence, this power, also marks her as a person: she radiates positive energy – and this is needed today perhaps more than ever. For Aki Takase, the word “forte” contains something of a message: "Overcoming harsh reality and moving forward with music during this time – we wanted to give expression to a strong will".
The Japanese-born pianist, who has been living in Berlin for more than three decades, has won the German Record Critics' Prize nine times in her long career, among many other awards. In five years, she has released three albums on BMC Records: Carmen Rhapsody, composed for Daniel Erdmann, Vincent Courtois and Mayumi Nakamura, the duo album Isn't It Romantic with Daniel Erdmann, which won them both the German Jazz Award, and her debut album with Japanic, Thema Prima, hailed by the critics of Jazzwise, Citizenjazz and All About Jazz.


Aki Takase – piano
Daniel Erdmann – tenor and soprano saxophones
Carlos Bica – double bass
Dag Magnus Narvesen – drums, percussion
Vincent von Schlippenbach – turntable

Nils Wogram – trombone
Alexander von Schlippenbach – piano

About the album

Compositions by Aki Takase (1, 2, 4, 7); Aki Takase and Dag Magnus Narvesen (5), Aki Takase and Alexander von Schlippenbach (8), Daniel Erdmann (3, 6); Dag Magnus Narvesen (9); Chris Smith (10)

Recorded at JRS Recording Studio, Berlin on 5-7, July 2023
Sound engineer: José Victor Torelli
Mixed and mastered by Beat Halberschmidt

Daniel Erdmann plays Selmer saxophones and Vandoren reeds & ligatures
Special thanks to the management: Constanze Schliebs (www.asianetwork.de)

Artwork: Anna Natter / Cinniature

Produced by László Gőz
Label manager: Tamás Bognár

Supported by Initiative Musik


Yves Dorison - CultureJazz (fr)

Dr. Nagy Sándor - Jazz Ma (hu)

Olasz Sándor - riff.hu (hu)

3500 HUF 11 EUR

Aki Takase Japanic: Forte

01 Festa Magdalena 9:11
02 Step Skip Stop 5:42
03 An jeder Kreuzung liegt eine Erinnerung begraben 4:03
04 Ma non Troppo 4:17
05 I Want to Know Sweet Music 1:31
06 Japanic Makrokosmos 6:45
07 Alinamin Drink 5:14
08 Timeless Story 8:34
09 Woe the Row of Foes 7:37
10 I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You) 3:13
Total time 56:12

The album is available in digital form at our retail partners


The fact that music is occasionally considered a language and is also understood, itself points strongly to a close relationship between these two forms of expression. It is no coincidence that the phrase “the language of music” has entered everyday vocabulary. Music can even convey contents which are verbally “inexpressible”. And not infrequently, we encounter the image of the instrument as a kind of extended mouthpiece that takes what is inside, and brings it out. Then again, there are words that, thanks to their onomatopoeic character, have a musical effect, and the sheer sound of them gives some idea of what they mean. “Forte” is one of these.
FORTE. When you pronounce the word, something of what it means immediately resonates. And who could deny that Aki Takase’s music not only sounds strong and powerful, but also conveys strength and power, though this characteristic is only one of the many aspects of her playing. And this presence, this power, also marks her as a person, in the sense that yes, she is definitely a “power woman”. “Be strong!” 
That is her motto, according to the saxophonist Daniel Erdmann. She radiates positive energy – and this is needed today perhaps more than ever. For Aki Takase, the word “forte” contains something of a message: “Overcoming harsh reality and moving forward with music during this time – we wanted give expression to a strong will.”
This attitude runs like a scarlet thread through the entire album. There is no trace of a retreat into navel-gazing, the inward-looking musical escapism that characterized so many pandemic productions not so long ago. Quite the opposite. Forte is extrovert, outward-looking.
Takase has long been a driving force, a creative dynamo, not only on the Berlin scene. And a not inconsiderable part of this dynamic is fuelled by her affirmative nature, by a thoroughly positive attitude, come what may. That brings us back to language.
JAPANIC. A word that doesn’t actually exist. But a play on words has helped to bring it into existence. And those inclined to can discover a lot in it. For example, the beautiful little word “yes”, which can signal something positive, in the sense of: yes, we can! Ja, two letters in German, that also make up the first half of the word “jazz” – and to take the wind out of the sails of any doubters: the music of Japanic’s Forte certainly is jazz. Then, of course, this invented word refers to Aki Takase’s origin, Japan. And last but not least, it includes a trace of the “panic” that we experience in the face of the status quo of Mother Earth and which the band Japanic wants to powerfully counteract with Forte.
Following their 2019 debut album Thema Prima, on their second album the band present themselves as a united force of like-minded and like-spirited people. Saxophonist Daniel Erdmann, who studied briefly with Aki during her guest  professorship at the Hanns Eisler Hochschule für Musik, and was subsequently integrated into Takase’s sextet, has  maintained an improvisational dialogue with the pianist for years. At the height of the coronavirus crisis, they recorded their duo Isn’t it Romantic?
The Norwegian drummer Dag Magnus Narvesen, member of the Kitchen Orchestra among others, and leader of his own octet, Damana, is also the duo partner of Aki’s husband Alexander von Schlippenbach (Interweaving and Liminal Field, Not Two Records).
Since 2023, Japanic has had a new member in the shape of Portuguese bassist and Berlin resident Carlos Bica, succeeding Johannes Fink. He became known through his collaboration with Maria Joao, the singer with whom Takase initiated a long tradition of highly original duets in the 1980s. Vincent von Schlippenbach, alias DJ IllVibe, one of the most virtuoso turntable whizzes and, as a creative record producer, the embodiment of the assumption that the world is a disc, made the album Lok 03 (Trost Records) with Aki and his father as a family affair. He can be heard with Bica and Erdmann on the release I am the Escaped One (Clean Feed).
Two familiar Takases appear as guests of Japanic on Forte. One is Alexander von Schlippenbach, the pioneer of European free jazz, with whom she recorded another duo in 2023, this time four hands, on a grand piano at home (Four Hands Piano Pieces, Trost Records). The other is trombonist Nils Wogram, who is involved in one of Aki’s various free-spirited, loving, and humorous embraces of the jazz tradition (Aki Takase Plays “Fats” Waller, Enja Records).
As a musician, she has always been interested in language, literature, and poetry. But also in nonverbal languages, in  forms of expression such as dance (becoming a dancer was her very first career aspiration – and Aki continues to cultivate her duo series Die Stadt im Klavier, The City in the Piano, with dancer Yui Kawaguchi) or in painting.
Forte opens with “Festa Magdalena”, a dedication to Takase’s declared favourite painter Frida Kahlo. The Mexican painter has often been the subject of a tribute realized together with the writer Yōko Tawada as part of a series of workshops entitled Language & Music (sic! There we go again...). For Takase, composing her own music has become more important in recent years. But never at the expense of the spontaneous, the unfiltered improvisational ad hoc expression in the here and now.
“Step Skip Stop” is like a non-verbal performance of the band, in which each individual member (and Nils Wogram as a guest) presents themselves as a soloist. Aki has often played Daniel Erdmann’s “An jeder Kreuzung liegt eine Erinnerung begraben” (At Every Crossroads a Memory Lies Buried) – here in a quintet version – with the composer, as a duo. A poetic title for a beautiful story: “The piece is dedicated to my driving instructor. When you’re eighteen, you get money to get a driving licence, which I used to buy a saxophone. At some point I did get my driving licence, and I had a very funny driving instructor who called me ‘my great friend Erdmann’. I was his last pupil, after that he changed careers.”
The title of “Ma non Troppo” is the only reference to an earlier composition by Alexander von Schlippenbach, “Akiko ma non Troppo” (which he recorded with the percussionist Sunny Murray). For Aki, the piece is about “each musician continuing to play the motifs they have come up with, at different speeds.” This idea once again reflects the influence of Conlon Nancarrow, who punched his compositions for self-playing pianos into music rolls and superimposed various tempi, rhythms and metres.
The Takase-Narvesen duet “I Want to Know Sweet Music” is like a short intermezzo and is further proof that Aki’s incredibly differentiated touch is not limited to forte. 
“Japanic Makrokosmos”, a title that requires some explaining. Composer Daniel Erdmann enlightens us: “The piece has – quite typically for Japanic – different layers, a static element and a composed element floating freely above it. This is the ‘Japanic macrocosm’ so to speak, Aki’s music is an incredible universe that constantly opens up new, surprising galaxies and knows no boundaries! I don’t know anyone who manages to bring so many worlds together in one project.”
As a further source of energy, the quintet and Wogram treat themselves to an “Alinamin Drink”, a Japanese dietary supplement, in Aki’s words “an endurance drink for energizing performances – and my regular medicine.” Forte!
In “Timeless Story”, the Japanic-Express steams full speed ahead through the Makrokosmos, driven by the continuous motoric movement of Aki and Alex’s four-hand piano “as the basis for improvisation sequences in which a different  instrument takes the lead. I wanted to express the freedom of music that moves through time and space like a train, like a locomotive.”
Having really got going, the band delivers the next example in Dag Magnus Narvesen’s “Woe the Row of Foes” (originally written for his octet Damana), which could go some way to ending the energy crisis – a contribution not to be underestimated. 
And it may come as no surprise that Forte concludes its appeal to a life-affirming, energizing collective confidence with resounding, humorous optimism and a dose of good spirits. The catchy standard “(I’m) Confessin’ (That I Love You)”, recorded in 1929 by Fats Waller & His Babies (and in 1997 by Takase and Rudi Mahall, Duet for Eric Dolphy, Solid Records), is heard here as a charming romance between Aki and Nils Wogram, the trombonist from her former Waller project. She talks to him and he talks to her. All without words…

Karsten Mützelfeldt
Translated by Richard Robinson

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