Known for her lyrical piano style, Japanese musician and composer Taeko Kunishima has her roots in classical music. While studying at university, she heard Miles Davis on the radio and the impact was life-altering. Kunishima was not content with simply adapting to Western jazz; her interests are far broader and have led her to Dictionary Land. The album is the culmination of influences which range from jazz to her native folklore, and Arabic music.
Dictionary Land is Kunishima's fifth album as a leader. Bassist Paul Moylan and Clive Bell, on shakuhachi and flute, have been recording with Kunishima for more than ten years. Kunishima, who has shown an affinity for adding uncommon percussion to her performances, features Camilo Tirado on tabla and calabash, and Jeremy Hawkins provides occasional field recordings. Kunishima plays a Pro 1 analog synthesizer in addition to acoustic piano.
The music on Dictionary Land is often meditative with sophisticated improvised passages. The opening title track is a masterful mélange with an emphasis on the traditional Arab and Middle Eastern music called Taqsim. Kunishima, who had lived in Yemen for a time, expertly renders unfamiliar melodic progressions and modulations. Moylan's bass captures the style as well while giving the piece a deeper resonance. Kunishima flips the paradigm on "White Whale." Here we have a distinctly different flavor, driven in large part by Bell's shakuhachi; the Japanese and Chinese bamboo flute is joined by Tirado on tabla, giving the piece an unusual global feel. Kunishima says that "Love and Peace," is a brief opus focusing on the nature of conflict, specifically wars in Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Inside the music is a brief, powerful poem read by Jeremy Hawkins, which includes: "None to say that death's not like dreams/No longer a window/No longer a street/Just war's echoes." "La Mer et La Rose" is the most straightforward jazz piece, with some interesting improvisation and sporadic up-tempo passages.
Kunishima, now a resident of England, is not well-known in the U.S. and her largely genre-less music is likely a factor. Whatever the overt cultural emphasis of the music, Kunishima deftly weaves in the shadings of multiple cultures. In Asia and Europe, she has been featured on popular radio programs including BBC Radio 3 and Jazz FM, and she has performed at several jazz festivals. Dictionary Land is a fascinating and very different album, even by Kunishima's standards. It is well worth exploring.
Dictionary Land: White Whale; Random Thought in the Dark; Image and Space;
Corvidae; Love and Peace; Dialogue with Solitude; La Mer et La Rose
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