Masabumi "Poo" Kikuchi was a Japanese jazz pianist of legendary stature with a vast discography that ran the gamut from straight-up post-bop and vanguard classical to fusion recordings, solo synthesizer dates, and even digital dub.
He toured and recorded with artists as diverse as Sonny Rollins, Lionel Hampton, Terumasa Hino, Sadao Watanabe, and drummer Paul Motian, among others.
Kikuchi was born in Tokyo in October of 1939. He studied music at the Tokyo Art College High School and, upon graduating, immediately formed his own trio. Soon after, he won a spot in Hampton's Japanese touring band. He made his recording debut as a jazz pianist in 1963 on Toshiko Akiyoshi and Charlie Mariano's East & West. Kikuchi played piano on composer Toru Takemitsu's score for a film by Masahiro Shinoda. In 1966 he appeared with Watanabe on the saxophonist's Jazz & Bossa recording, along with iconic drummer Masahiko Togashi. The year 1967 proved to be a prolific one in Kikuchi's career: not only did he appear on no less than five albums recorded with Watanabe and Mariano, but he also appeared with Japan's Swing All Stars. In 1968, along with session work, he and trumpeter Hino formed the Hino-Kikuchi Quintet and recorded their self-titled debut; the album received national acclaim.
Around this time, the pianist also entered a contest for overseas musicians sponsored by Down Beat magazine. He won a full scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in the United States. Before leaving for Berklee, Kikuchi played piano for Rollins during his Japanese tour. The pianist returned to Japan in 1969. In 1970, he was part of Peacock's group on the seminal Eastward album. Kikuchi formed his own sextet right after, and recorded Matrix in 1970; it was the first recording under his own name to see international distribution and is one of his classics. Poo-Sun, which was influenced by the sounds coming from Miles Davis' group of the same period, was issued the same year. All told, Kikuchi's sextet recorded a total of seven albums in 1970, two in collaboration with Watanabe's band. He also appeared on Hozan Yamamoto's Silver World with Peacock.
Between 1970 and 1979, Kikuchi was a well documented as a as a sideman and featured guest, and led several important dates. He recorded and toured with Mal Waldron, Joe Henderson, Elvin Jones,Gil Evans, and Peacock, and cut two duet albums with Togashi, the truly enigmatic Japanese vanguard jazz recordings Poesy: The Man Who Keeps Washing His Hands (1971) and Song for Myself (1974). His own non-sextet dates from the '70s included the enigmatic A Short Story for Image Hairpin Circus (1972), East Wind (1974), Wishes/Kochi (from 1976, featuring members of Davis' group including Reggie Lucas, Steve Grossman, Mtume, Dave Liebman, and Al Foster), and the solo But Not for Me (1978). Kikuchi had become friends with Davis earlier in the decade. He was one of the musicians whom the trumpeter kept in touch with during his retirement, and the two recorded an album together in 1978 that has never been released.