Subaqueous Silence, Japanese pianist Ayumi Tanaka’s leader debut for ECM – following two critically acclaimed releases with Thomas Strønen – is a strikingly original statement, conveying a musical atmosphere all its own, with its intensities and silences, its sense of mystery and dramatic tension. No other contemporary piano trio sounds like this.
Tanaka met bassist Christian Meaas Svendsen and drummer Per Oddvar Johansen shortly after arriving in Oslo a decade ago and they have been developing their musical language together since then, exploring the implications of Ayumi’s compositions, which draw inspiration from both eastern and western sources, from the sounds of nature and more.
Deep interest in the work of Norwegian improvisers brought Tanaka to Scandinavia. “The first time I heard Norwegian jazz I felt that the musicians’ expression was very personal,” she recalls, “the quality of tones making the air feel alive. So I came to Norway to understand how this unique music evolved.”
Born in Wakayama, Japan, Ayumi Tanaka began her musical studies at the age of three, initially playing electronic organ. She recalls improvising, almost from the beginning, in parallel with her studies. “I played everything from film music to the works of Bartók and Ravel. Alone, I would find myself improvising, sometimes about stories I imagined, sometimes to release my emotions. Or I’d just play along with the sound of a bird, the wind, water…”
At the Norwegian Academy of Music Tanaka studied jazz with Misha Alperin, Anders Jormin and Helge Lien among others. Soon she was making significant contributions to Norway’s world of improvisation: playing in a three pianos ensemble with Christian Wallumrød and Johan Lindvall, taking over the piano role in Time Is A Blind Guide from Kit Downes, and co-founding an open-form improvising trio with Thomas Strønen and Marthe Lea, recently heard on Bayou. Since 2015 she has also played with the ensemble Nakama, led by Christian Meaas Svendsen.
Alongside all this activity, there has been a growing awareness of her own cultural roots; there is an ascetic rigour in her playing, as well as a sense of space suggesting affinities with Japanese musical tradition. “I feel myself in ancient Japanese classical music,” she acknowledges, “even though I am strongly influenced by Norwegian musicians. My late teacher Misha Alperin was always saying to me ‘Find your own voice’, which is something I continue to seek.”
The stark and poetic pieces she writes for the trio set a musical direction for free creative interpretation. “I intend the group to be more like a chamber ensemble. We share a flow of energy, even in silences, as reflected in the album title.” Silence is often an energizing force in the music, helping to determine the shape of the content, and opening up new avenues of approach.
Per Oddvar Johansen, long one of Norway’s most resourceful and versatile drummers, is a familiar presence to followers of music on ECM through his contributions to albums by Trgyve Seim, The Source, Christian Wallumrød and Mette Henriette. He is a master at playing in very open contexts, setting pulses in motion with a gently splashed cymbal or delicate brushes on a snare drum, generating powerful music from understated gestures.
Christian Meaas Svendsen, making his label debut on Subaqueous Silence, variously utilizes Zen restraint and fiercely physical textural exploration in his improvising, alert to the changing needs of the moment. His intensely expressive arco bass on “Black Rain” is among the album’s highlights.
Subaqueous Silence is the trio’s second album (the first, Memento, was issued in 2016) and recorded at Oslo’s Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria in June 2019.
- Ayumi Tanaka Trio | “Subaqueous Silence” | Available October 29 via ECM - Ayumi Tanaka Leads an Exciting Debut Album with a New Trio, featuring Christian Meaas Svendsen and Per Oddvar Johansen Available October 29 via ECM Subaqueous Silence, Japanese pianist Ayumi Tanaka’s leader debut for ECM – following two critically acclaimed releases with Thomas Strønen – is a strikingly original statement, conveying a musical atmosphere all its own,…