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Takeshi Asai – French Trio Vol. 2 [TrackList follows] – Blanchard Musique/ de Trois Cités Records

Takeshi Asai – French Trio Vol. 2 [TrackList follows] – Blanchard Musique/ de Trois Cités Records TC14TA04-01, 63:09 [6/2/15] ***:

(Takeshi Asai – piano, mixing engineer, executive producer; Pascal Combeau – bass; Maxime Legrand – drums)

New York City-based pianist Takeshi Asai once more breathes life into his French trio project with the second in a series of ongoing collaborations with bassist Pascal Combeau and drummer Maxime Legrand. French Trio, Vol.1 came out in 2014, and that album’s successor, French Trio Vol. 2 (issued on Asai’s own imprint, de Trois Cités Records) follows in the same footsteps as the first volume. The material consists of music from live concerts alongside studio recordings. This straightforward jazz which is refined and stylish, but buttressed by an open-minded approach. There is a perception of seriousness but also, at times, cheerfulness: light humor balanced with well-honed jazz veracity. While this is not jazz which breaks down musical borders or barriers, this is music which effectively resides within jazz tradition and lineage.

The hour-long, eight-track record begins with the eight-minute “653,” which has an introspective inclination fronted by Asai’s pensive chords and single notes, Legrand’s delicate cymbals and sticks, and Combeau’s nimble acoustic bass. Another unobtrusively nuanced piece is “Hier,” which is French for “yesterday.” Listening to this restful ballad, there is an impression of reverie via Asai’s quiet chords, Combeau’s legato bass lines, and Legrand’s sparkling brush work. The three create a nearly nighttime ambiance, like a lingering memory just before the eyes close and sleep commences. The trio also knows how to move from thoughtful to swinging, which is the progression during “Intro-Little Vexations.” Asai’s solo piano introduction has a fragility which hints at a haunted emotional aspect, and then bass and drums enter and the tune’s moody characteristic changes to a gliding, rhythmic groove which gradually escalates into a vigorous upsurge. Another upbeat number is the live cut “Beginning Again,” which has an enjoyable lightheartedness. Asai and Combeau unite to undo the fun melody, and then restore the foundation and continue with the entertaining élan. Asai contributes some resilient improvisations which merge individualism and charm; and Combeau provides an equaling inspired bass solo.

Asai composed most of the music. Combeau penned one track. And Legrand also wrote one composition. Combeau’s “Little Black Pudding” has a persevering personality which somewhat echoes pianist Vince Guaraldi. Like some of Guaraldi’s work, there is a sustained and expressive melody and a pinch of “au revoir,” as if someone was saying goodbye to childhood innocence for a faster-paced adulthood. Legrand’s “Libre Arbitre” (French for “free will”) is a lithe cut where rhythm is paramount. But “Libre Arbitre” also has a notable melody. Intriguingly, the percussive elements emanate from everyone. Asai’s piano is fully cadenced, which is nicely done via arpeggios. This gives Legrand the opportunity to do shifting rhythmic enunciations, while Combeau supports the arrangement with buoyant bass lines. Asai, Combeau and Legrand conclude with the album’s lengthiest tune, “I Remember the Castle.” There is a lot of room for each trio member to stretch out; and each person takes hold of the melodic contours and reacts to them with interesting, intermingled intensity. There are moments of slight dissonance; times when the rhythm swells into a flowing engagement; and as suddenly, there are instances of intimacy and consideration. Overall during French Trio Vol. 2, there is a feeling of fraternity which encases this music with a warm embrace. The attentive engineering is complementary. Asai’s Steinway piano resonates strongly in both live and studio settings. And the bass and drums are mixed to help develop their responsive relationship.

TrackList: 653; Beginning Again; Hircam; Hier; Little Black Pudding; Intro-Little Vexations; Libre Arbitre; I Remember the Castle.

—Doug Simpson

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