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Spring In Bangkok by Aki Takase & Lauren Newton

Aki Takase and Lauren Newton, both raised in separate parts of the world (Takase in Japan and Newton in the United States) and then settling in Germany, have joined for an extraordinary sonic adventure that transcends languages or even words or conventional melodic notions. Entirely explorative and rules-breaking, these two artists instead engage in truly spontaneous interaction that not only is unpredictable from one track to the other, but also from one moment to another within a single performance. Though the titles of the "songs" although "song" is an insufficient term for what they perform are titled in German, languages really make no difference. For Newton, the vocalist, is more interested in approximated sounds of nature; and in glottal stops; and in universally recognized exclamations; and in sustained vowels that dynamically swell and then float; and in operatic flourishes that stop short of being operatic; and in jazz references that aren’t really quotes but familiar short phrases; and in vocal experimentation of amazingly broad intervals from falsetto to mid-range; and in sounds that have no translatable meaning in any language and yet seem strangely familiar as a conversation inflection instead of literal expression.

"Density"? That’s an almost-four-minute tour de force during which Newton, a collaborator in the past with Anthony Braxton and Patrick Scheyder, sings without accompaniment as she takes the listener on an emotionally uninhibited journey fraught with unexpected detours and breathless excitement and pointillistic darting of her voice to outline, rather than fill in, the portrait she sings. So, "Density" in itself isn’t dense at all.

When Takase joins in, as she does on most of the rest of the tracks, the delight and the surprise doubles because it is obvious from listening to them that each track, like "Frûhling in Bangkok," commences from an agreed-upon concept and proceeds without notation as they response to one another in completing the scene. In this case, Newton creates Oriental allusions with great energy, setting up her own percussionism, while Takasa at first creates effects, strumming the piano strings or clattering a cymbal until she joins with her own vamp, the intensity rising from the wondrous almost-whisper of the beginning.

Either could entertain, and paint, their own sonic images alone. But the fun and there is much humor to be found throughout Spring in Bangkok comes from their interaction. Takase, who has worked with Lester Bowie and Dave Liebman among others, possesses the confidence to command a performance, but as on "Insel," while Takase establishes the fragmented stride-like theme, she too enjoys the anything-can-happen possibilities when Newton contributes her wild, apparently nonsensical and smile-provoking not-really-a-language. "A Bis Z," wittily, appears to begin as a warm-up of piano scales and vocal exercises until a song, wordless as always, emerges until it accelerates to a stop. And then it begins again as the duo develop new ideas to splash. "Absturz Und Wiedergeburt" is darker, Newton’s voice approximately a creaking door hinge as Takase thumps single ominous bass notes as it is revealed that their vision is cinematic more than musical, metal scraping across the strings and Newton then suggesting otherworldly motion through the "fall and rebirth."

Though Aki Takase and Lauren Newton have devised their own inimitable and personal sonic dialogues and scenery through truly responsive and unplanned improvisation, they nonetheless invite the listener to share in their twelve adventurous tracks through an unmistakable devotion to the fun arising from sonic exploration and discovery.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Aki Takase & Lauren Newton
  • CD Title: Spring In Bangkok
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Intakt Records
  • Tracks: Der Wind Ist Westwind, Eins Ums Andere, Insel, A Bis Z, Sakura No Solo, Frûhling in Bangkok, Fortsetzung Folgt, Density, Afrikanische Zunge, Das Scheint Mir…, Absturz und Wiedergeburt, Kommt Es Nah
  • Musicians: Aki Takase (piano). Lauren Newton (voice)
  • Rating: Three Stars
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