Masabumi Kikuchi: Black Orpheus (ECM 2459)

2459 X

Masabumi Kikuchi
Black Orpheus

Masabumi Kikuchi piano
Recorded live October 26, 2012 at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Recital Hall
Recording director: Satoshi Takahashi
Recording engineer: Masatoshi Muto
System engineer: Shinya Tanaka (SCI)
Mixed at Rainbow Studio, Oslo by Manfred Eicher and Jan Erik Kongshaug (engineer)
Album produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: April 1, 2016

Recorded live on October 26, 2012 at the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Recital Hall, Black Orpheus presents the late Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi (1939-2015) in a solo improvised concert. While some players, when given this much room to roam, travel ever inward, Kikuchi is that rare exception who builds monuments ever outward, and it’s all we can do to grab a railing or window for the ride. Having played with many greats across as many eras of jazz history—including Elvin Jones, Gil Evans, Miles Davis, and Paul Motian—Kikuchi was sufficiently prepared to strike his own match. And while his fire may have burned slowly but surely in an unassuming corner, its smoke infused the entire structure surrounding it. Such is the possessive effect of his music, which in Part III especially plays hooks to our loops in spiritual Velcro. Even before that, as Part I unspools its dreams into reality, thus revealing what Ethan Iverson in his liner notes calls Kikuchi’s “extraordinary vulnerability and corresponding extraordinary magic,” the truth of his hands is already obvious.

Kikuchi 1

Kikuchi’s sense of space is more about the space of sense. In Part IV, for instance, his ability to shape the resonance of a single note is like that of a master sitar player in his treatment of decay. His fingers feel connected to the key long after the hammer hits, indeed working that extraordinary magic into sounds otherwise thought of as liberated. And while there are more convoluted strains to be found here, as cultivated in Parts VI, VIII, and IX, there’s nothing remiss about their breathing patterns. That they share the same lungs as Part VII, a deeply affective sandwich of cloud-soft bread and raw meat, is all the more remarkable. Each mode nourishes the other, so that whether painting a moving image one frame at a time in Luiz Bonfá and Antônio Maria’s “Black Orpheus” or evoking the quiet joys of “Little Abi,” a tune written for his daughter, he understands that human bone is both the most resilient and weakest architecture, capable of bearing more weight than anything the body housing them can create before it collapses.

Kikuchi 2

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