Masabumi Kikuchi: Hanamichi The Final Studio Recording

Pierre Giroux By

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Masabumi Kikuchi: Hanamichi  The Final Studio Recording
Masabumi Kikuchi is not the kind of jazz pianist who just strikes the keys to produce a sound. He has a Zen-like approach to the instrument by making it an extension of himself, and thus both constructs and hears the music produced as a different form factor. There are and were other contemporary pianists such as Bill Evans, Denny Zeitlin and the late Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould, musicians who perhaps may fit into this category, but Kikuchi was a one of a kind artist.

The pianist has acknowledged that Thelonious Monk was his model not so much for playing style, but rather as one who followed his own inner voice. Although Kikuchi had a lengthy discography and was associated with players such as Gary Peacock, Paul Motian and Gil Evans, he nevertheless existed on the fringe of the profession due to the eclectic nature of his musical interests. Kikuchi who passed away in 2015 at the age of seventy-five recorded these compositions over a two day period in New York City in December 2013. So rather than recording a session that would have been free improvisation, the producer Sun Chung coaxed him towards playing mostly recognizable compositions.

The opening track "Romona" was written in 1928 by L. Wolfe Gilbert and Mabel Wayne and was traditionally performed as a ballad with a Latin cadence. Masabumi regards this composition, as well as the other popular songs in this session, through a different lens. They simply provide a structure on which notes are interpreted and changed with the mood and invention of the musician. In this tune, Kukuchi stretches the notes as if they were long-sounding vowels, providing a sense of space and tempo that adds to the tension of the interpretation.

In 1935, George and Ira Gershwin wrote the aria "Summertime" for their folk opera "Porgy and Bess." In this album's longest track, Kikuchi seeks to create sounds from the melody that are both stated and implied. He manipulates the music in a comprehensive way across the registers, along with altering the notes and chords to achieve a uniqueness that amplifies the musical impact. The formidable combination of Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers wrote "My Favorite Things" in 1959 for their musical "The Sound of Music." Kikuchi constructed two very distinctive versions of this composition during the two days of the recording session. In many ways this confirmed his improvisatory approach to the music in that note striking was only part of the process.

The final two tracks are original compositions by Kikuchi namely; "Improvisation" and "Little Abi" both of which represent the free improvisational style that have been the hallmark of Kikuchi's last period of work. Both compositions demonstrate the complexity of Kikuchi's musical ideas in the repetition of a line or riff in another key or different register, by shifting accents, and the variation of rhythmic figures.

In kabuki theatre, the Hanamichi is the bridge-way that allows the actors to enter and exit the stage by crossing the auditorium through the audience. In contemporary Japanese life, it may be the perfect metaphor to signify the end of Kikuchi's career on his terms.

Track Listing

Ramona; Summertime; My Favorite Things I; My Favorite Things II; Improvisation; Little Abi.


Masabumi Kikuchi: piano.

Album information

Title: Hanamichi — The Final Studio Recording | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Red Hook Records

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