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An ECM debut from Masabumi Kikuchi with long-time musical partner, drummer Paul Motian, who died last year. Given his credits, it is strange that I had not encountered the pianist’s work before. Born 1939 in Tokyo, Kikuchi moved to the US in 1970, and in the following decade worked with Elvin Jones and Gil Evans while leading his own acoustic and electric groups. He formed Tethered Moon with Paul Motian and Gary Peacock in 1991, which recorded several CDs including Chansons d'Édith Piaf and Play Kurt Weill.

Sunrise is an extended essay in the free rubato ballad, an approach to jazz piano that seems to fit seamlessly with the ECM ethos. Kikuchi recently explained how ‘I started believing in myself. When I sit down at the piano I do not prepare what I will play, nor do I think about how to play’. As Ethan Iverson comments on his blog, ‘After the modal years and the groovy years, Masabumi kept getting freer and freer. Eventually the [Paul] Bley influence vanished as completely as the [Chick] Corea. Masabumi has become totally original.’

Without such powerful advocacy, though, I might not have persevered with this recording. It is certainly distinctive. Spare, delicate and finely spun, with no emotional grandstanding; the label’s description ‘Zen’ seems appropriate. By the same token, one could say: emotionally uninvolving, etiolated, remote. To take a parallel that is not entirely distant, the violently contrasting reactions aroused by the work of Webern come to mind. I’m still listening.

ADRIAN HORSEWOOD Read the full review on Agora Classica


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