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Ayumi Tanaka Trio - Subaqueous Silence (ECM)

27 October 2021

Though weaned on Japanese classical music, pianist Ayumi Tanaka has done her most formative work in the Norwegian jazz scene. Subaqueous Silence, her second album with drummer Per Oddvar Johansen and bassist Christian Meaas Svendsen, shows the influence of her time there playing with musicians like Thomas Strønen. The “chamber jazz” sound of ECM, in which a group of players coalesce around ensemble playing and classically influenced melodies more than blues riffs and improvisational set-ups, grew in part out of this scene. At the same time, the Nordic musicians have often shown a willingness to ignore traditional structures and play out as required, or even just when the mood takes them.

The combination of these methods has led to a distinctive strain of European jazz, and it’s a strain with which Tanaka feels right at home. This is made clear in the two-part “Ruins,” in which the pianist slowly and deliberately finds her way to her melody, while Svendsen thrusts his pizzicato thrum to the forefront and Johansen keeps the peace at an almost subliminal level. The second half of the song (broken up by the arco bass-led “Black Rain”) focuses even closer on the melody, with the musicians taking their time getting to where it needs to go. The title track encapsulates the trio’s approach: methodical exploration of a dreamy atmosphere punctuated by occasional flurries of lightning. Tanaka’s feel for Norway’s approach to jazz makes her sound like a native, but she brings her own serene aesthetic to the party, making Subaqueous Silence both a part of and apart from the cauldron in which it cooked.