Japanese-born, New York-based pianist, Takeshi Asai, is a master of the short story; brief but elegant compositions, where every word seems to be well-thought out and in the right place. This is not to suggest that he leaves no room for improvisation – rather that he, and his long-standing trio – work so well together and interact so seamlessly.
Asai divides his time between his US trio, his equally impressive French trio, and the occasional foray into electronics. His new album, Vol. VI, is recorded with his US trio, which is comprised of Bob Gingery on double bass and Brian Woodruff on drums, and was recorded at the pianist’s home studio in New York in July and December, 2021.
The album includes nine brand-new compositions and one well-chosen cover. WI, dedicated to Wisconsin, opens the album, and is more expansive than many of his compositions, perhaps trying to capture the majesty of the broad landscapes. The melody reveals itself gradually, evolving over time as the pianist sets out his thoughts.
I Didn’t Know It Was (Bacon) is dedicated to Francis Bacon. Drummer Brian Woodruff supplies a crisp, concise beat, allowing plenty of space for the bandleader to explore. Asai delivers a delightful solo, brimming with ideas, before stripping the tune back to basics, and allowing the drummer room to expand.
The intriguingly titled Iota is based on a simple piano melody, but there are a host of lovely touches, including some nice touches from Woodruff as the melody breaks down, and a fine bass solo by Gingery, who impresses throughout.
Gingery takes the lead on the elegant Air On The White Keys, which is dedicated to J.S. Bach. The influence of Bach can perhaps be heard more in the bass than the piano, but this reflective piece is one of the album’s many highlights. Mes Demoiselles is another favourite, Woodruff switching to brushed drums and Asai keeping things simple with a delightful melody.
Listen to Air On The White Keys here:
Blue Brain, dedicated to John Coltrane as the title suggests, is a more complex composition as one would probably expect, but no less easy on the ear, with the pianist improving over a walking bass line.
The album closes with a cover of James Taylor’s Fire and Rain. Taylor’s ear for melody is a perfect fit with Asai’s vision, and the pianist delivers enough ideas of his own to keep things fresh and interesting.
Takeshi Asai is a prolific composer, but he has a fantastic ear for melody, and never seems to run out of ideas. The trio format seems to be the perfect fit for his vision, and whilst there are no surprises here, the new album is a delight from start to finish.