TOK: Paradox (JAPO 60029)



Takashi Kako piano
Kent Carter bass
Oliver Johnson drums
Recorded June 1979 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Steve Lake

That Japanese pianist Takashi Kako has spent much of his career as an accomplished classical pianist should come as no surprise to anyone who listens to this album, which documents a time in his life when he was heavily involved in the French free jazz movement at its zenith. It was during this period that, in 1979, he formed TOK, an acronym of its members, of whom drummer Oliver Johnson and bassist Kent Carter completed the trio. All of its pieces are by Kako, save for the last, the fantastic “Wobbly Walk Parade,” by Carter. This carnival dream expands the trio’s standard palette, adding cello to its composer’s toolkit; celesta to Kako’s; toy piano, tambourine, and vocals to Johnson’s; and featuring an unexpected appearance by producer Steve Lake on harpsichord (!). Leading up to this whimsical flourish is a program of striking originality, which is all the more intensified by Kako’s undeniable acuity at the keyboard. Certainly his time in Paris has worn off here, as riffs resembling those of the great 20th-century French composers—including his teacher, Olivier Messiaen—are recognizable throughout.

The OK to Kako’s T are finely supportive, responding to every dip and spiral of the pianist’s flights over delectable comping. Each listens to the other before deciding on a single note. Whether riding the groove of “Dodéc” or painting with shadow in “A Lua De Portugal,” the trio shares equal duties in the evocation department. Between Carter’s elasticity, Johnson’s adaptive timekeeping, and and Kako’s denser ligaments, the resulting music hides in a crawl space somewhere between classical and jazz.

But Paradox throws its brightest spotlight on Kako, whose piano piece “Night Music” shows the beginnings of what has since grown into a lauded career as solo performer. Another return to roots is “Sekitei” (the title means “rock garden” in Japanese), which is the album’s masterwork. This painterly piece takes chamber jazz to a high level of abstraction that is almost linguistic, diagnostic. Every new element in its unfolding becomes integral to the whole and, although in seeming contrast to the title, rather accurately captures the blossoming order of chaos in this often-misunderstood art form.

Easily among the finest JAPO releases.

2 thoughts on “TOK: Paradox (JAPO 60029)

  1. A really enjoyable review. Thanks!
    But it is not the band’s only recording. TOK was already formed in 1978. The group released two LPs in Japan.
    Takashi Kako, Oliver Johnson, Kent Carter ‎– TOK (Trio Records, PAX-6003) and a live recording from around the date of the JAPO LP (TOHO-SEIMEI HALL, June 5, 1979) also on Trio Records.
    The story of the trio even has an LP called “Micro Worlds”, recorded on August 31 and September 1, 1976 in Paris. Arguablly the first TOK release, although Irene Aebi guests on the vinyl’s eponymous track and the later band’s name TOK wasn’t mentioned on these previous releases except as a title.
    Therefore PJL’s 2004 CD was a compilation of two previously released LPs.

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