Though a music professor at the University of California, Irvine with 13 albums under his belt, 54-year-old Kei Akagi is still best known for having played on Miles Davis’ last recorded works.
The Sendai-born, Cleveland- raised pianist and composer maintains the link on his latest album, recording Davis’ “Blue in Green,” which was performed by pianist Bill Evans on Davis’ 1959 modal landmark, “Kind of Blue.” Rather than rehashing a classic, Akagi’s arrangement of “Blue in Green” for his trio of piano, bass and drums eschews Davis’ trumpet lines to create a refreshing take driven by his own piano playing.
On his own compositions, Akagi attempts to paint a thematic album. On the lead track, “Smile in the Rain,” Akagi plays a series of trills which suggest rainfall, while on “Ripple Effect,” he plays a cascade of notes, soloing without hesitation over a central bass line that pushes the rhythm ahead. Yet this literal approach translates less well on “Winter Light,” which sounds like a clunky Philip Glass composition. Gratuitously experimental, it’s full of screeching noises, cymbal rolls and crashes and hefty chunks of silence.
The album is at its best when Akagi plays with efficacy as bassist Tomokazu Sugimoto and drummer Tamaya Honda accent his piano melodies. Like the classic album that inspired it, the elegant “Liquid Blue” rarely gets weighed down by its thematic approach.