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When Aki Takase writes that Eric Dolphy ‘cut through the borderlines of jazz categories’, she could be describing her own approach to music, which gleefully disregards such designations as ‘traditional’ and ‘avant garde’. Born in Osaka in 1948, Takase initially studied Western classical piano, but then fell under the spell of American jazz of the late 1950s/early ’60s, particularly the music of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk, the latter being a major influence on her playing style. After working for a time in the States, she relocated to Berlin in 1987 and began to record regularly for the German label Enja, whose co-owner Horst Weber had arranged her first trip to Europe to play at the 1981 Berlin Jazz Festival.

Enja has now issued this box-set retrospective, comprising five of the 10 albums she recorded for the label between 1981 and 1997. It’s a strong, broadly representative selection, showing Takase in solo, duo, trio and septet contexts, and working with both European and Japanese musicians, although her recordings with leading American players David Murray (Blue Monk), Reggie Workman and Sunny Murray (Clapping Music) are regrettably absent.

The earliest disc here, Song for Hope, comes from that debut 1981 Berlin concert and features her Japanese trio with bassist Nobuyoshi Ino and drummer Takeo Moriyama. Takase sets out her free jazz credentials on the opening Monologue, but it’s her dashing, splattery solo on the anthemic title-track that really thrills, introducing European listeners to her talent for teetering on the brink of chaos yet never falling in.

If Song for Hope is a snapshot of youthful exuberance, the remaining four CDs, all from the 1990s, present a mature and increasingly versatile artist. This is especially true of the 1990 solo album Shima Shoka, with its impressive range of cover versions: Takase spins discursive elaborations on Carla Bley’s Ida Lupino, turns Duke Ellington’s Rocking in Rhythm into a zestful, stride-driven extravaganza and offers a bravura take on Coltrane’s Giant Steps, traversing them in a madcap whirl of brilliant playing.

Alice, also from 1990, documents her longtime association with the Portuguese singer Maria João, although the duo are joined on this live CD by bassist Niels- Henning Ørsted Pedersen. It’s an entertaining set that really takes flight on Takase’s Presto V H, a fun-filled rhythmic joust between rollicking piano and João’s flamboyant scat vocals. The 1994 Japanese septet disc Oriental Express, which highlights Takase’s skills as a composer/ arranger, is an explosive affair, its sprawling, rambunctious ensembles and eruptive solos heavily indebted to Mingus.

Takase’s pianism returns to the fore on Duet for Eric Dolphy, which inaugurated her ongoing musical partnership with bass clarinettist Rudi Mahall. The pair scamper adroitly through 10 of Dolphy’s intriguing post-bop compositions (and more), her droll, discordant tinkles complemented by his slithery array of quacks and chirrups. When she also writes that Dolphy’s music ‘swings perpetually upward’, she could be referring to herself: it’s a quality she imparts to nearly everything she plays.

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Piano International, 2015 - ©Rhinegold Publishing