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Watchful Ear (12 January 2011)

"An unexpected day off today, which was spent in the company of good friends in the morning, and delightful girlfriends in the evening, so I’m not sure why I feel a bit gloomy tonight, but perhaps its the menopause kicking in again. Still, I have listened to some music today, and have chosen to write about a disc that actually came out more than a year ago, and was sent to me a month or two back, but as I have only just got around to playing it, and as the label were kind enough to think of me to send it, I don’t see why it should matter how long its been out. it is still available here.
The CD in question then, is a trio improvisation recorded in Argentina back in 2008 by the trio of Tetuzi Akiyama, (acoustic guitar) Eden Carrasco (alto sax) and Leonel Kaplan (trumpet). The album consists of one thirty-three minute long improvisation and revels in the beautiful title Moments of Falling Petals. Before mentioning the music I should bring attention to the lovingly formed packaging, a great little pen drawing printed on thick art paper that is then folded up in such an extravagant origami formation that I’m not sure I’ll be able to put the disc away once I’ve finished with it this evening.
So musically, this piece sounds pretty much how I expected it to, Akiyama picking out a spacious, fragmented blues-type smattering of clear notes over Kaplan and Carrasco’s more muted, earthy backdrops. As predictable as it may be though, it is still really rather lovely. The sax and trumpet stay mostly in an area somewhere between breathy hisses and low growls, occasionally breaking out into louder passages of the same kind of thing, but retaining the reduced palette throughout. Akiyama’s playing then is very beautiful, indeed like falling petals his notes feel fragile and exposed out the front, like the first solid lines painted into a watercolour sketch after the bases washes have been perfected. The rhythmic element that often creeps into Akiyama’s playing is missing here though, which pleases me quite a bit, and so there is a forlorn, almost vulnerable feel to the guitar that harks back to his early CDs and yet also fits here perfectly.
An understated affair then, but with a romantic heart, which makes this quite a rare improv disc as it seeps a kind of sadness of the kind we usually hear in other forms of music but rarely in the improv world. There is plenty of silence in there as well, particularly in the CD’s opening few minutes as the musicians find their place in the live event, so all of this combined together gives the CD a certain poignancy. The role of the two Argentinian musicians shouldn’t be underplayed here either. Though generally quiet and working as accompaniment to Akiyama’s foregrounded guitar, the subtlety in their playing, and the way they blend and filter their sounds through each other is very nicely done indeed, staying back in the shadows, (in fact creating the shadows) at times and flowing through into the light at key moments.
Not utterly essential music then, but a very nice disc to listen to, particularly on rainy grey nights like this one when the mood is a sombre one and the whisky glints golden at the bottom of the glass."

Blow Up Magazine
By Stefano I. Bianchi
In Blow Up Magazine #143 (April 2010)

"Anche il cd di Tetuzi Akiyama (chitarra), Edén Carrasco (sax) e Leonel Kaplan (tromba) è in edizione limitata (250 copie) e similmente destino agli aficionados di stretta osservanza: radure di solfeggi e carezze di suono, ampio utilizzo di spazi vuoti (silenzi?) e malinconia persistente tra le maglie, le volute e i drones che si susseguono nell’indifferenza dell’ambiente circostante. (6)"

Paris Transatlantic Magazine
By Dan Warburton
In Paris Transatlantic, Autumn 2009

"The good old, bad old conservatory-trained composer in me is more drawn, I'll admit, to Moments Of Falling Petals, which finds Captain Akiyama back on acoustic guitar in the world of recognisable, even singable (yes!) pitches for a delicate and elegantly understated three-way conversation with alto saxophonist Éden Carrasco and trumpeter Leonel Kaplan. This could be a clue as to why I happen to find Akiyama such an intriguing musician – returning once again to the less-is-more world of Bar Aoyama and Off Site where he first made a name for himself, I'm struck by what I once described elsewhere (referring to an Arthur Doyle album, of all things) as "relaxed intensity". There were only two ways out of Off Site: either by playing even less – the Taku Sugimoto solution – or by playing more, which was Akiyama's strategy. (Toshi Nakamura can't decide which way to go, which is fine by me too..). There's an extraordinary tension to Sugimoto's work, both improvised and composed – I well recall him sweating, physically suffering to place those oh so few notes in just the right place in a concert with Radu Malfatti here a while back – while Akiyama in concert has never seemed to me to be in the throes of such an existential crisis. Can music be intense without necessarily being tense? I'd say it can, and Akiyama is a good example. Pursuing the comparison for a while, that Connors / Licht duo once more comes to mind, with Taku playing Connors, agonising over each sound, while Akiyama sits back (Licht positively slumps back) and lets the notes come – not that there are many more of them here than there used to be on echt Akiyama outings like Relator, or his wonderful duos with Jozef van Wissem, Proletarian Drift and Hymn for a Fallen Angel. There's a real sense of tonal – not in the traditional sense of course – interplay in this 33-minute piece, with Akiyama's delicate chordal threads and micro-melodies drawing Carrasco and Kaplan back into real pitch play (rare these days, that), which counterpoints their more "extended" techniques to great effect. It's glorious stuff, and strongly recommended. Same goes for the other two too – but you may want to prepare a secret tunnel out of your apartment if you want to play Omni at the volume it deserves."

By Ken Waxman
In JazzWord

"Tetuzi Akiyama/Éden Carrasco/Leonel Kaplan Moments of Falling Petals Dromos Records 001

Mary Halvorson/Reuben Radding/Nate Wooley Crackleknob hatOLOGY 662

Hautzinger/Okura/Akiyama Rebuses MonotypeRec. mono027

Combined, contrasted and contrapuntal guitar and trumpet textures – plus those of another instrument – are what tie together these notable sessions. Yet even though only a trio of instruments is involved on each – and Tokyo-based On-kyo guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama is present on two of the three CDs – the overall performances can readily be distinguished from one another.

More obviously separate is Crackleknob, the collaboration among three New York-based players: guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Reuben Radding and trumpeter Nate Wooley. Each has worked with a cross-section of other progressive players including composer Anthony Braxton (Halvorson), pianist Denman Maroney (Radding) and cellist Daniel Levin (Wooley). Not only that, but Wooley has also recorded in the past with Leonel Kaplan, a trumpeter from Buenos Aires with similar understated tendencies, featured on Moments of Falling Petals.

Kaplan’s associates on that disc are Akiyama, whose interests range across the electronic, improv and notated scenes, as well as Éden Carrasco, an alto saxophonist from Santiago. Akiyama – who plays a tape-delay electric guitar – is also on board for Rebuses, but his partners here are saxophonist and clarinetist Masahiko Okura from Tokyo, who plays with Japanese improvisers such as turntablist/guitarist Otomo Yoshihide; and Vienna’s quartet-tone trumpet specialist Franz Hautzinger whose playing partners range from synthesizer player Thomas Lehn to rock-styled ensembles.

On Rebuses the emphasis is strictly minimalist. Brass timbres leak onto toy guitar-like twangs produced by slurred fingering, abut barely breathed peeps and disconnected note patterns from the saxophonist, and rest on an undertow of electronic flanges, spins and clatters. Throughout, Akiyama’s licks aren’t often wedded to folksy finger-picking but concentrate instead on ringing chords and slack key approximations, circling the others’ tones and constantly launching envelopes of dissonant patterns. More upfront here than elsewhere, the guitarist’s downward-cascading licks plus crackling amp distortions bring forth belligerent split tones or vulture-like cawing from the reedist.

Occasionally Okura interrupts flat-line air expelling to complement with tongue slaps, fluttering squeals or rolling blows, the equally sporadic rubato squeaks from Hautzinger. For his part the trumpeter prefers tremolo grace notes which usually reflect back onto themselves. As well, in contrast to Akiyama’s divisive string rubs and chordal flanges, Hautzinger’s tongue-rolled air is connectively chromatic. Eventually collective note patterns shape the five long tracks into suite-like form.

More precious and much shorter, Moments of Falling Petals, with Akiyama on acoustic guitar, consists of a single track improvisation which moves between silencers, gentling undulations and unexpected crunching eruptions. With Kaplan’s timbres initially centred on muted growls and Carrasco’s on peeps, squeals and chromatic slurs, only Akiyama’s coldly outlined notes cut through the undifferentiated sonic and silences. Eventually his snaps and strums are challenged by side-slipping shrills and bell-muted pressure from the saxophonist plus spittle-encrusted angled grace notes from the trumpeter. Following a climatic water dam-like roar from the horns, and a subsequent extended period of silence, the piece’s final variation is divided among whimpering pressure from Kaplan, which becomes louder and more atonal by the end; brassy spetrofluctuation from Carrasco; and microtonal slurred fingering from Akiyama – with a conclusive resonating twang.

Moving north from Buenos Aires to Brooklyn, not only do Halvorson, Radding and Wooley run through 10 tunes in less than 48½ minutes, but each number also has a quirky title. The game plan here involves triple counterpoint with an emphasis on dissonant unison harmonies. Performances by this trio are as macro as the others are micro, without losing sight of post-modern minimalism that is mixed with jazz-styled improvisations.

In this context at least, Halvorson’s output is spikier and louder than Akiyama’s. During the course of “Libidinous Objects & the Decay of Self”, for instance, she works herself from watery chromatic picking to distorted lines and finally into a display of scattered notes and slurred staccato fingering. Radding thickly thumps in response, while Wooley leaks the odd brass tone. Meanwhile, “In the Teeth of Ideology” serves as a showcase for the bassist, whose wood-splintering-like scrubs and col legno ruffs replace his usual thick stopping and walking. Stepping back to strum, the guitarist cedes the remaining space to Wooley, whose hushed output is simultaneously lyrical, wispy and Impressionistic.

Elsewhere each seems to be vying to discover whose playing can be the most moderato and low-pressured. However an extended improv such as “Quavering Voices of the Mutilated” shows off their multi-directional counterpoint in greatest detail. With the broken chord action connected by Radding’s pumping lines, the guitarist moves from chunky rasgueado to spidery fingering while the trumpeter’s interpolations evolve from tremolo buzzing to sounds that are fortissimo, shrill, grainy and slurred. When this centrifugal performance climaxes, silences, delay and discursion eventually combine into lyrical connectivity.

Although Crackleknob distinguishes itself from the other two sessions with a brash – perhaps New World-styled – forthrightness, each of the CDs demonstrate winning methods for enlivening trumpet-guitar trio sessions that simultaneously explore and evolve."

Just Outside
By Brian Olewnick
In Just Outside

"Just as I had been expecting a quieter Mota, I was probably anticipating a noisier, bluesier Akiyama but once again, I was flummoxed. Here he, along with Carrasco on alto and Kaplan on trumpet, play it soft and borderline melodic all the way through. Much space, a nice array of texture. Several lovely moments here, including one about 20 minutes in where I was strongly reminded of Roscoe Mitchell's Sound Ensemble from the early 80s (high praise). Again, it's a short disc, about 33 minutes, but strong and well-paced throughout, definitely one to hear. This release also has a great sleeve, folded origami like, as is the interior tissue sleeve. Good one."