Now he releases Takeshi Asai Solo-Live in New York (De Trois Cités Records TC15TA05-01), a solo recording of two concerts recorded in New York City—an Autumn concert from September 26, 2015 and a Winter concert from December 12 of the same year. The Autumn concert was one of performing Jazz standards and the Winter was his own writings. The recording took place at the Concert Space of Beethoven Pianos in New York City.
Takeshi admits to trepidation at the first foray into solo piano performance but “as soon as I hit the first note, the music began playing itself, and the energy from the audience surprised me.” However, his outstanding performance, as found on this album, should not surprise anyone who has heard him before. He remains personal and open and his arrangements of standard and original works are beyond question. For me, Takeshi Asai is a rare master whose name deserves mention among the most-revered names in Jazz piano.
The album opens with John Lennon’s Norwegian Wood. Sure, credited to Lennon-McCartney but we all know who wrote the thing. Among Lennon fans, it remains a favorite and Takeshi treats it well. It is not a simple reiteration of the Beatles’ classic. Rather, it opens with swinging bit of improve before moving into the all-so-familiar melody. He swings it nicely and still gives the Lennon fans what we want; a Jazz reinterpretation of a beloved tune. His middle section improvisation of the theme moves so well and then moves into a brief bit of retrospective melancholy before resuming the melody. This is both tribute and expansion of a theme. Well-done.
Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now opens with spacious and lovely thought. The tempo is much slower than the original and the improvisation much deeper. Changed keys and tempos create a completely different emotion and energy than the original. Even though Joni Mitchell took her own jazzy steps, Takeshi pulls the piece completely into his realm. It is a gorgeous and soulful arrangement.
From there, Takeshi moves us to the Churchill and Morey standard Someday My Prince Will Come. Covered by Miles Davis and many other Jazz artists, Takeshi puts his own touch to it and breathes new life into the hopeful, wistful piece. He leaves aside the longing aspect, the melancholia, and turns it into a song of expectancy and optimism. He makes it bounce and drives it forward. This works well on all levels.
Night and Day from Cole Porter is a standard among standards. Again, Takeshi’s arrangement is as different from the original as…I have say it…Night and Day. It is swinging and fun and completely Takeshi’s own.
O’New is the first original piece on the album, coming from the Winter Concert. Again, we have known Takeshi as an excellent composer and we are startlingly reminded of that beginning with O’New. The structure of the piece and the haunting phrasing are almost breath-taking. The melody is emotional and moving and his changes can bring tears—in a good way. The piece tugs at my memory but I don’t know what. Almost like something I don’t want to remember but can still feel the emotion of it. Fortunately, the piece closes with a pull away from that into something uplifting.
Mid-Spring Night’s Dream is a work of charming delicacy and delight. Almost a tone-poem, it’s Impressionistic movement strolls and sways and casts the melody skyward and the heart of the listener follows devotedly. This is one of Takeshi’s most intriguing melodies ever. The nightscape imagery is inescapable and the surreal logic is pure magic.
The nocturnal theme continues into Moonlit Night. The shimmering effect is like moonlight on the water while the cool night air is heard and felt in the dancing melody. The song carries the feeling of looking out of the window into a world of moonlit images and creatures comfortable in the night. The overwhelming desire to join them in their preferred setting is compelling indeed. All portrayed by Takeshi’s hands on his solo piano.
Piano Row Blues is the final original piece on the album. It is a rousing blues with a bit of late ragtime added. It is a fun piece with a striding gait and jaunty melody. The Memphis blues sound is a grabber and Takeshi keeps the pace up-tempo and the phrasing intent. Quirky and fun.
The final track is the great Arlen and Harburg piece, Over the Rainbow. It is melody that is unmistakable and an emotional that is unrelenting. No matter whose version one may hear, the pausing effect is inevitable. But under the respectful and emotion-filled treatment of Takeshi Asai, the effect is doubly emotional. The longing is inescapable.
Takeshi Asai Solo—Live in New York is a work of sheer beauty and grace. It calls from the heart of the performer to the heart of the listener and creates a communion of tender affection. How wonderful, how rare, how humbling is that.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl