Monday, April 16, 2012

Masabumi Kikuchi - Sunrise (ECM, 2012)

Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi has had a lengthy career in jazz and improvised music, though much of it under the radar of Western audiences, until he began a simpatico relationship with the drummer Paul Motian in the 1990's. Motian is at the forefront here in his last recorded performance along with the bassist Thomas Morgan. There is a haunted, late-night vibe on the first two performances, "Ballad #1" and "New Day" which feature spare piano and bass. Paul Motian is the perfect drummer for music like this playing with the utmost subtlety and restraint. "Short Stuff" is a brief interlude for skittering percussion and bass with Kikuchi grunt-singing along like Keith Jarrett. A Motian percussion solo opens "So What Variations" before probing piano and bass enter, skating around and hinting at the theme. Piano takes the lead in a complex improvisational pattern with light brushes and open bass providing support. "Ballad #2" is wide open and spacious with the silence framing the occasional notes and chords. Opening with quiet bass and percussion "Sunrise" slowly forms cohesiveness with percussive piano engaging the other two musicians in quiet contemplation, before kittish percussion and piano ramp up the pace a little bit. Paul Motian is the key to "Sticks and Cymbals" as he is to much of this music. He plays with great tact and dignity weaving textures in and around the bass and drums. They pick up to a swinging feel toward the end with Motian driving the music forward. Rolling piano anchors "End of Day" where Kikuchi's short stabs of piano are contrasted by bass and drum fills and foundation. Raising the stakes a little bit, "Uptempo" shows Motian dancing on the cymbals while Kikuchi throws attract, Monk-ish paino his way with Morgan's bass as the anchor. "Last Ballad" is a coda, returning the haunted lonely theme of the beginning of the album, quiet but peaceful, not in despair. This was an interesting album, Kikuchi was a musician that I was completely unfamiliar with before reading an article on him in the New York Times. He has a unique and personal approach to his music and found perfect partners to help shape his vision in Motian and Morgan. The music is meditative and thoughtful throughout. Sunrise -

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