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Masabumi Kikuchi / Ben Street / Thomas Morgan / Kresten Osgood: Masabumi Kikuchi / Ben Street / Thomas Morgan / Kresten Osgood

Jakob Baekgaard By

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The German poet, philosopher and literary critic Karl Wilhelm Friedrich von Schlegel (1772-1829) had an affinity for the fragment as an art form and in his Athenaeumsfragment 206, he wrote about it, saying that: "[a] fragment, like a small work of art, has to be entirely isolated from the surrounding world and be complete in itself like a hedgehog."

Like a true Romantic poet, Schlegel saw the unique potential of the fragment as something that could point towards infinity. It is through its own limitation, and the fact that it is only a detached part of something else, that the fragment lets go of the idea of a closed totality.

The idea of the fragment might seem esoteric and abstract, but it is actually a very useful way of understanding what is going on in the music of Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi. Instead of playing through-composed melodies, he rather plays clipped melodic phrases that could go anywhere. The same thing goes for the rhythm that starts and stops, like a clock that does not work. It is the aesthetic of interruption, but, at the same time, there is also room for lyrical contemplation.

For some time, Kikuchi has been talking about developing a new approach to music and has been involved in musical experiments with bassist Thomas Morgan and guitarist Todd Neufeld, experiments that have been documented in the short documentary Out of Bounds. In the liner notes to his album Sunrise (ECM, 2012), Kikuchi refers to these experiments, saying that:

"Together we're trying to find new possibilities in ensemble improvisation. These guys are young and smart and they catch on incredibly quickly, and we already share a kind of method whenever we play together. But I'm reluctant to use that term, because what we are trying to destroy is a method too -one that's brought us up to this point in time. So I've been looking for a better word..."

The better word Kikuchi is looking for might be "fragment." The fragment is explored as a musical approach on the self-titled album from Kikuchi, bassists Ben Street and Thomas Morgan, and Danish drummer Kresten Osgood.

The album is released on Osgood's label, ILK, and in a brief note, it is mentioned that "the record is sponsored by Rhythmic Music Conservatory and is a result of Kresten Osgood's artistic research activities as teacher at Rhythmic Music Conservatory, Denmark." This is basically the information that is given. There is no further explanation of what the research activities involved. In fact, all the strategies of adding meaning to the music are absent: no liner notes, no album title and no titles for the compositions. They are simply named #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7 and #8.

A key to understanding the music, however, is Katrine Urth's cover, a black figure or fragment on a yellow-brown background. The interesting thing is that when the cover is completely unfolded there is an illustration of what looks like two fingers touching the fragment. The result is inside the package: music. The human element (the hand) reaching out for a musical form.

Together these four musicians create music that sounds as if a fragment of a form is created in the moment. As a pianist, Kikuchi shuns the closed linear logic of traditional composition. He does not play melodies as much as he plays fragments of melodies. There are interruptions, clusters of chords and single crystalline runs across the piano. Moments of romantic elegy and almost soundless listening. Like Keith Jarrett, Kikuchi sighs, moans and rasps as he coaxes strange and beautiful sounds out of the piano.

The two bassists, Morgan and Street, share a similar Zen-aesthetic. It is remarkable so much space there is in the music and they complement each other perfectly as their intricate lines evolve into abstract grooves.

Osgood plays much in the style of Paul Motian, with subtle colorations on the cymbals, but he can also drive the rhythm forward and create quiet explosions.

In the end, the fascination of this music is how it brings opposites together, stillness and movement, melody and abstraction, dissonance and harmony. It is both creation and destruction. A fragment of music on the way to find a form. It is a record that gets to the heart of improvisation.

Track Listing: #1; #2; #3; #4; #5; #6; #7; #8.

Personnel: Masabumi Kikuchi: piano; Ben Street: bass; Thomas Morgan: bass; Kresten Osgood: drums.

Title: Masabumi Kikuchi / Ben Street / Thomas Morgan / Kresten Osgood | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: ILK Music

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