Nabil Atassi. “Improvisation, interpretation or composition? This question arises from the possibility of being able to experience the jazz pianist Ayako Shirasaki on two consecutive evenings with completely different formations. The conditions of the two concerts in Hamburg could not be more different: On the first evening at the jazz club, even at the ground in trio, on the next evening solo, solemnly on the stage of the baroque Hamburger Laeiszhalle.
Day 1, the Trio in the Jazz Club “Stellwerk” Hamburg-Harburg. Only for a brief moment, the appearance of the graceful Japanese woman gives the impression that it would be a quiet concert. She starts the program with two standards, lays claim to groove. Her two sidemen from Hamburg, Philipp Steen (b) and Kai Bussenius (dr), two young wild ones in suits with sneakers, helping her to do so. The pianist had deliberately decided for the two in advance of her tour of northern Germany: “I have been listening to both their profiles on the internet - and they just fitted perfectly with my style!” A good decision. While Ayako with clear play, technically brilliant, sometimes lightly swinging, sometimes ponderous, festive and lyrical narrative with a gentle look (not without a certain degree of severity) dictates the direction, the two go to work accentuated, sometimes a little wooden, but full of verve and give the concert a certain youthful, sometimes even pleasantly rough charm. Shirasaki varies between standards and original compositions, pilots her sidemen, who now really got it going, gracefully through the set to the point of “Airegin” by Sonny Rollins, the musical highlight of the evening (and the opener of her CD “Existence” from 2003). Now, all three musicians rush focused through the fast-paced piece, one solo chasing the next one – until all three let loose their improvisational drive in the final and in doing so sound like a real New York jazz piano trio. Conclusion: Surprisingly loud and surprisingly wild!
Day 2, Shirasaki solo in Studio E of the Laeiszhalle. In the noble ambience of the room arises a solemn, somewhat tense concertante atmosphere. Exactly here Shirasaki seems to be in her element, looking at her smile of satisfaction at the resolution of the first chords. Already at the opening piece, a composition by Billy Strayhorn, it is clear that this evening would not be a dynamic replica of yesterday. Virtuoso and very focused Shirasaki creates a huge sound, which combines jazz and elements of classical solo piano performance. She modulates, accentuates, but doesn’t quite manage it to reach the freshness of the previous evening. “Solo is a stoic affair, you have to make everything yourself. It means freedom, but as well much responsibility.”, says the pianist. Perhaps that’s why Shirasaki today performs more as an interpreter than as a composer. Standard to standard, Shirasaki’s own compositions almost don’t take place. In the second set, she shows that solo jazz piano can be great art and tells with the lyric “Falling Leaves” the gladly listened to story of an autumn afternoon in New York City. She ends the concert with an incredible medley of no less than three standards requested by the audience. World class.
On two evenings in Hamburg, one could experience two different facets of a very interesting pianist. When asked about her way forward, she sees herself more than an improviser and interpreter than as a composer. In any way she is definitely easy to like and left her audience, despite the musical differences on both nights, into the autumn evening with the comforting feeling of just having heard really good music.