Kei Akagi: The Tokyo Trio

You may have seen him around campus, usually in the Arts Plaza: At first you might think he’s an Asian hippie. You might even think he looks a little like Jackie Chan circa ‘Shanghai Noon.’
The way music students and professors talk fondly about him only bolsters his image as a legendary figure on the UC Irvine campus.
His name is Kei Akagi, and if you went to his Tokyo Trio concert on Friday, Feb. 16 or Saturday, Feb. 17, hosted by the Claire Trevor School of the Arts Department of Music, you know that he is one incredibly talented jazz pianist.
Perhaps best known for his work as a member of the Miles Davis band in the late 1980s, Akagi comes from a lineage of great jazz keyboardists that includes household names such as Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea.
Besides being featured on Davis’ last recorded work, he has recorded 12 albums as a solo artist and band leader. As a frequently sought-out sideman and accompanist, he has been featured on over 60 CDs worldwide and is also a professor of music at UCI.
According to Akagi’s concert anecdotes, the Tokyo Trio was formed in 2000 during a trip to Japan when his producer introduced him to Tomokazu Sugimoto, a bass player, and Tamaya Honda, a percussionist. After a few jam sessions, it became apparent that the three could read and compliment each other very well during fast-paced improvisations. Their connection was motivated by the same goal: to experiment with modern concepts within jazz improvisations while staying faithful to the genre’s rich African-American roots.
The result was a mind-blowing concert in UCI’s Winifred Smith Hall.
The trio’s music is often described as hard bop with a hint of free and avant-garde. It’s hard bop because of the lightning-fast speeds and technical chops, and it’s avant-garde because it constantly challenges the listener’s ears.
At one moment, the audience might feel as though they can hold on to a beat, and at other times they’ll realize that, despite how fast or slow the piece makes them feel, they are unable to tap out a consistent rhythm.
The same goes for tone perceptions. Once the audience feels as though they can find the tone, it suddenly changes to something brand new. To put it in simple words, the music sounds like a mess, but not in a bad way