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Published: 2012/06/13
by Ron Hart

Masabumi Kikuchi Trio


Through the course of his stunning sixty-something year career as a professional musician, pianist Masabumi Kikuchi has been party to some of jazz music’s greatest figures, collaborating with the likes of Lionel Hampton, Sonny Rollins, Gil Evans, Joe Henderson, Max Waldron, Elvin Jones and Miles Davis, who recorded a session with the Tokyo-born 73-year-old back in 1978 that remains unreleased to this day.

But as a bandleader in his own right, Kikuchi remains an underrated force in his craft, a conundrum that is properly rectified for those who take the time out to give a listen to his masterful debut on ECM. Recorded at New York’s Avatar Studios in 2009, Sunrise features some of the most daring and abstract playing in the Japanese piano great’s career yet, anchored by a top tier rhythm section of young upstart Thomas Morgan on double-bass and the late drum master Paul Motian on one of his final studio performances before passing away in November 2011 of complications from myelodysplasic syndrome, or preleukemia. And it is the intuitive camaraderie between Kikuchi and Motian, who have worked together on several occasions over the last 20 years, that makes these ten compositions such an effective listen. In fact, the pianist points out in the liner notes to Sunrise that it was Motian who pushed him further into the deep waters of improvisation, evident in the unexpected directions Kikuchi takes the tonality of his ivories over, under and around the geometric grooves put down by the drummer and Morgan in a manner that is more Cecil Taylor than Duke Ellington.

Fans of Tethered Moon, the 90s post-bop trio featuring Kikuchi and Motian with longtime Keith Jarrett double-bassist Gary Peacock, should consider Sunrise required listening. But even if you have never heard of Masabumi Kikuchi before and you are a serious fan of the jazz piano, this is one ECM title that you cannot overlook.

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