Taeko Kunishima: Late Autumn (2011)
Pianist Taeko Kunishima's third record, Late Autumn, is an exciting work full of intriguing compositions, diverse instrumentation and top-notch performances. Any one or two of these attributes, as manifested on this album, would be enough to carry the day, but the presence of all three makes for a must-hear release.
Kunishima's compositional skill is substantial, and it is a missed opportunity to listen to these pieces in only a casual way. The songs veer from moments of very straight-ahead, contemporary jazz in the vein of, say, Aaron Goldberg, into an assortment of surprising time changes and seductive melodies. These are not self-indulgent, gimmicky displays of ability, and the experimentation is never at the expense of accessibility. Kunishima has written nine highly original and exceptional songs.
While there are seven instrumentalists credited on this album, the core of the ensemble is a quartet. Several layers of texture are built upon the foundation of Kunishima, trumpeter Sean Corby, bassist Paul Moylan and drummer Maxwell Hallett, including a variety of percussion sounds from David Ross and ethereal shakuhachi (Japanese flute) work from Clive Bell, who also produced the set. While the instruments are all acoustic, there is tasteful and effective sound processing at several points (specifically applied to Corby's trumpet) as well as jangly, off-kilter prepared piano from Kunishima on "Rain Sketch." None of the sonic colorings are overdone or sound misplaced, instead contributing atmospherics at the service of the compositions.
The engineering and musicians make great use of the sonic palette at their disposal, but the real pleasure is derived from the performance execution. The playing is tight and syncopated where the music calls for it, displaying a lilting swing on "Promise," with its bouncy bass melody and hand clap accents. The band also plays out and psychedelicwith ease and seeming pleasure, given how often they go there. The one vocal track, featuring Rio Roberts, is more than just straightforward; the melody is quirkypretty, but oddly and rewardingly disjointed at moments. Just another point of intrigue amongst many; all of these musicians deliver exactly what is appropriate when called upon.
To date, Taeko Kunishima's live work has been focused in the UK, Germany and Japan. This thoroughly modern and captivating record may be one to help her break through to a more global audience, including casual jazz fans looking for something new but also the aficionado in need of uncharted terrain to explore. Taeko Kunishima's Late Autumn is the perfect storm of repertoire, arrangements and players, with something for everyone.
Track Listing: To The Hebrides; Return To Life; The Waves; Kimie; Spring Rain; Rain Sketch; Dusk; Promise; Late Autumn.
Personnel: Taeko Kunishima: piano; Clive Bell: shakuhachi, flute; Sean Corby: trumpet, flugelhorn; Paul Moylan: double bass; Maxwell Hallett: drums; David Ross: cajon, percussion; Rio Roberts: vocals (9).