This husband-and-wife duo was recorded live in concert at Café Amores in Hofu City, Yamaguchi, Japan, in August 1995, but the album had never been released until this 2018 issue, as part of the NoBusiness label's Chap Chap series. Although Alex von Schlippenbach and Aki Takase have recorded together in various formats every few years, there are only two previous releases of them playing as a duo, Piano Duets — Live in Berlin 93/94 (FMP, 1995) and Iron Wedding (Intakt, 2008). As Live at Café Amores was recorded during a tour to promote Piano Duets — Live in Berlin 93/94, it is unsurprising that the two have several compositions in common, notably the Schlippenbach pieces "The Morlocks" and "Na, Na, Na, Na...Ist das der Weg?", Frank Zappa's "You Are What You Is" and Monk's "Misterioso" and "Existence", while neither shares any pieces with Iron Wedding.
A significant difference between Live at Café Amores and the two previous duo albums is that on them Schlippenbach and Takase played two separate Steinway grand pianos whereas, because Café Amores was only big enough to accommodate one piano, on the Japan album the two played side by side. All the tracks on the previous album were duos, while Live at Café Amores includes a solo piece from each pianist, three-minutes of jaunty ragtime from Takase on "Lulu's Back to Town" and, in contrast, the thirteen-minute "Jackhammer" from Schlippenbach, on which he roams free, delivering an imaginative, energetic improvisation of which Cecil Taylor would have been proud.
The duo tracks are the beating heart of this release, as they feature Schlippenbach and Takase locked together in performances that burst with energy, and easily match those on the Berlin album. Although seated adjacent to one other (with Schlippenbach at the lower end), they never seem to get in each other's way but straightaway, on "Na Na Na ist das der Weg", co-operate so effectively that they sound as if their four limbs are controlled by just one brain. If anything, their physical proximity aids communication and adds verve to their playing. The Zappa composition is taken at a pace which makes the Berlin version sound lethargic by comparison, a comment which applies to all the tracks where such comparisons are possible. The album's grand finale is an extended version of "The Morlocks", in which prepared piano figures prominently; generally, in Japanese venues, performances with prepared piano are hardly allowed but in this instance the club owner, Takeo Suetomi, gave permission and Schlippenbach and Takase put a metal pizza plate inside the instrument. As a result, "The Morlocks" begins with a sound which resembles a broken threshing machine and is just loud enough to drown out the notes being played. Gradually, the piano sound emerges from the maelstrom and, with the occasional hint of preparations, manages an exciting and highly musical performance. Altogether, a fine end to an album which is a welcome addition to the already excellent Schlippenbach-Takase oeuvre.
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